Alyssa Sawyer

Dr Alyssa Sawyer

Lecturer

School of Psychology

Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences


I am a Lecturer in the School of Psychology and Registered Psychologist (endorsed by the Psychology Board of Australia as a Clinical Psychologist). I have previously worked as a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Research and Evaluation Unit of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and with the BetterStart Child Health and Development Research Group within the School of Public Health.

My research focuses on children’s development and mental health, postnatal mental health and support for new parents, and epidemiology. In particular, my research has focused on children’s mental health and wellbeing with particular emphasis on the development, implementation and evaluation of new clinical and population level interventions in partnership with health, education, and welfare services. I have an interest in using population data from longitudinal cohorts and surveys, and population-level interventions designed to improve outcomes for children. Of particular interest is the development of self-regulation and how this affects children’s later outcomes.

Alyssa is interested in providing supervision for students who wish to focus their research on the mental health of children, adolescents, or families. Alyssa works with population level datasets including the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (https://growingupinaustralia.gov.au/) and the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (https://youngmindsmatter.telethonkids.org.au/about-young-minds-matter/ ). Opportunities exist for research projects using these population level datasets for students interested in statistical analyses and epidemiological research methods.

Research interests

  • Child mental health and development
  • Supports for parents during the postnatal period (particularly for mothers experiencing postnatal depression and for new fathers)
  • Epidemiology and population health
  • The development of self-regulation in childhood: effects on children's later outcomes.
  • The effectiveness of online interventions for postnatal depression

Potential projects for Psychology Honours:

Rural and remote psychologists' views about supervision of placements: this project involves the analysis of an existing qualitative data set.  Professor Anna Chur-Hansen and I will supervise the student.  It will be expected that the material analysed will result in publication - with myself, Prof Anna Chur-Hansen, A/Prof Rachel Roberts, Dr Anne Gannoni and Dr Nylanda Ma also on the publication as this work has been produced as a team.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is increasingly diagnosed in perinatal settings, and research suggests that as well as an escalation of BPD symptoms in this period, these symptoms may also be highly detrimental to infant development. At Helen Mayo House Mother-Infant Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (MI-DBT) is a treatment developed to support women with a diagnosis of BPD during the postnatal period. Qualitative evaluations of this program have been conducted and a project would be available using this qualitative data to examine changes in the mother-infant relationship during the MI-DBT treatment. The project will be co-supervised by A/Prof Rachel Roberts and I, with external supervision from Dr. Anne Sved-Williams.

Potential projects for Masters of Psychology:

The following project will be co-supervised by A/Prof Rachel Roberts, Dr. Alyssa Sawyer, and Dr Anne Sved-Willams (SA Health). Please contact Rachel and Alyssa for further details.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is increasingly diagnosed in perinatal settings, and research suggests that as well as an escalation of BPD symptoms in this period, these symptoms may also be highly detrimental to infant development. At Helen Mayo House Mother-Infant Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (MI-DBT) is a treatment developed to support women with a diagnosis of BPD during the postnatal period. Qualitative evaluations of this program have been conducted and the following projects would be available:

  1. Evaluating changes to the mother-infant relationship after MI-DBT.
  2. Previous qualitative research has provided evidence for the role of partners in supporting mother’s receiving MI-DBT. The project would involve conducting individual interviews or focus groups, and conducting qualitative analysis to examine the experience of partners of mothers with a diagnosis of BPD.

 

Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Child Protection Service. Project co-supervised by Dr Alyssa Sawyer, Professor Deb Turnbull.

A preliminary evaluation of a new approach to improve the antenatal and postnatal care of infants in families experiencing psychosocial adversity.

This project is testing the feasibility of implementing and evaluating a novel intervention combining mentalization-based support utilising 4D ultrasounds and parent support delivered using “virtual home visits”. The intervention will be offered to parent’s experiencing moderate levels of psycho-social adversity, as this group of parents are often in need of additional supports but do not meet criteria for limited services offered only to parents experience high levels of risk and adversity.

The intervention goals are to promote parents’: (i) emotional connectedness with their unborn baby and capacity to consider their unborn baby’s experiences; (ii) sensitive, responsive caregiving in the antenatal and postnatal period; (iii) understanding of normal patterns of infant distress in the newborn period, including how to effectively manage infant distress, and; (v) ability to use safety planning to manage parental frustration during periods of persistent infant distress.

The project would involve conducting focus-groups with mothers, and partners who have completed the intervention to understand their experience of the intervention and supports offered during the perinatal period.

 

Project co-supervised by Dr Alyssa Sawyer, Dr Amanda Taylor, and Dr Melissa Oxlad School of Psychology

Service support and use of services for new parents.

The postnatal period is a time of increased stress for new parents, and a critical time for healthy infant development. Over the past 30 years several nurse home visit programs have been developed to support mothers in adapting to this new role and to support infant development. Less work has investigated supports for new fathers during the postnatal period, and there has been increasing interest in supporting mental health difficulties and adaptation to the parenting role for fathers during this time.

The aim of this study would be to conduct a pilot study to explore the experience of fathers during the postnatal period in relation to service supports. In particular, we are interested in understanding father’s experience of services for new parents, areas of unmet service support, and barriers in being able to access existing supports.

 

Project co-supervised by Dr Alyssa Sawyer and Associate Professor Rachel Roberts.

Can the WPPSI-IV be administered using telehealth; What is possible?

The Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence- IV (WPPSI-IV) is the most commonly used measure by clinical psychologists in Australia to assess the intellectual functioning of 2 to 7 year old children. The COVID-19 pandemic initiated work to understand the feasibility of using telehealth for assessments for adults and older children. However, we are unaware of any work to understand how the WPPSI-IV could be administered using telehealth. Given the importance of understanding young children’s intellectual abilities for clinical psychologists, and the likely ongoing need for telehealth both due to the pandemic and often unmet needs of rural and remote families, we aim to explore how the WPPSI-IV could be administered using telehealth.

The project will involve pilot testing a telehealth-based administration of the WPPSI-IV with parents supporting the assessment, to understand which subtests are feasible to be administered in this way, including what training parents would need to undertake this role.

  • Appointments

    Date Position Institution name
    2019 - ongoing Lecturer School of Psychology, University of Adelaide
    2017 - 2019 Postdoctoral researcher Research and Evaluation Unit of the Women's and Children's Hospital; School of Medicine, University of Adelaide
    2012 - 2017 Postdoctoral researcher School of Public Health, University of Adelaide
  • Education

    Date Institution name Country Title
    2008 - 2012 Flinders University Australia PhD (Clin Psyc)
    2007 - 2007 Flinders University Australia BA Hons (Psychology)
    2006 - 2006 Flinders University Australia Grad Dip Psyc
    2003 - 2005 Flinders University Australia BCA (Creative Writing)
  • Certifications

    Date Title Institution name Country
    2014 Clinical Psychology Area of Practice Endorsement Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency Australia
    2011 Registered Psychologist Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency Australia
  • Research Interests

Competitive grants:

2022-2023      

Sawyer. A., Carbone, J., Richardson, V., Lee, J., Linke, R., McDonald, D., Turnbull, D., Sawyer, M. A preliminary evaluation of a new approach to improve the antenatal and postnatal care of infants in families experiencing psychosocial adversity Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, $99,345

2019-2021      

Do, L. G., Sawyer, A., Jones, A., Ha, D. H., Leary, S., Spencer, A. J. Early exposure to fluoridated water and child psychological and intellectual development. National Health and Medical Research Council – Project Grant, $828,756

2016               

Sawyer, M., Lynch, J., Sawyer, A., Sved Williams, A., & Briggs, N. A randomised controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of a nurse-moderated group-based internet support program for mothers with comorbid mild to moderate depression and parenting problems. Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, $75,000.

2014      

Sawyer, M., Bowering, K., Jeffs, D., Lynch, J., Sawyer, A. Does nurse home-visiting improve the longer term health and wellbeing of mothers and children? Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, $58,062.

2013 - 2016    

Lynch, J., Chittleborough, C., Smithers, L., Sawyer, M., Brinkman, S., Mittinty, M., Sawyer, A., Bowering, K. Child health and development: a South Australian data linkage study. National Health and Medical Research Council – Partnership Project. ($273,131 NHMRC), ($180,000 partners)

2013               

Sawyer, M., Bowering, K., Jeffs, D., Lynch, J., Sawyer, A. Does nurse home-visiting improve the longer term health and wellbeing of mothers and children? Channel 7 Children’s Research Foundation, $72,355.

Other grants:

2015               

Australian Federation of University Women South Australian Postdoctoral Grant. Awarded on merit for completion of research project, $5000.

2014               

Healthy Development Adelaide Travel Grant. Awarded to attend and present at the 8th World Congress on Promoting Mental Health (London, September, 2014), $1000

2013-2017      

Marshall, H., Richmond, P., Booy, R., Wood, N., Blythe, C., Nissen, M., Crawford, N., Buttery, J., Haji Ali Afzali, H., Sawyer, M., Barton, B., Sawyer, A., Wang, B., Clarke, M. The Long-term Impact of Serogroup B Invasive Meningococcal Disease (IMD) in Australian Adolescents and Young Adults: 2012 – 2016.  AMEND study. Pfizer, $891,000.

Lecturing and course coordination:

2020-onwards       Coordinator, Psychological Assessment (Master of Psychology (Clinical), University of          Adelaide).

2018, 2020-onwards       Placement Coordinator (Master of Psychology (Clinical), University of Adelaide).

2018                Coordinator, Abnormal Psychology (Master of Psychology (Clinical), University of Adelaide).

2014 - 2016     Public Health 1A (Bachelor of Health Sciences, University of Adelaide).

2014 - 2018     Communication for Health Sciences (Bachelor of Health Sciences, University of Adelaide).

 

Tutoring:

 

2014-2015       Public Health 1B (Bachelor of Health Sciences, University of Adelaide) – mentor for Small Group Discovery Experience.

2014                Public Health 1A (Bachelor of Health Sciences, University of Adelaide).

  • Current Higher Degree by Research Supervision (University of Adelaide)

    Date Role Research Topic Program Degree Type Student Load Student Name
    2021 Co-Supervisor Interventions for disrupted attachment styles in adults with BPD, and the effects on infant attachment Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Part Time Mr David Rimmington
    2021 Co-Supervisor Nature Play? No way! An investigation of preventative factors impacting on child engagement in nature play. Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Miss Madison Skye Bellchambers
    2021 Co-Supervisor Exploring postnatal experiences, wellbeing and support needs of South Asian refugee and migrant families in Australia Doctor of Philosophy Doctorate Full Time Ms Ria Aiyar
  • Other Supervision Activities

    Date Role Research Topic Location Program Supervision Type Student Load Student Name
    2021 - 2021 Co-Supervisor Does Taking Parental Leave Improve Mental Health and parenting sense of competence in New Fathers? The University of Adelaide Honours in Psychology Honours Thomas Parkin
    2021 - 2021 Principal Supervisor The association between depression in adolescence and academic achievement. The University of Adelaide Honours in Psychology Honours Ellen Gecz
    2021 - 2021 Co-Supervisor Does emotional dysregulation at early childhood predict the risk of disordered eating in Adolescence? The University of Adelaide Honours in Psychology Honours Srivaasavi Sivasankar
    2021 - ongoing Co-Supervisor Preliminary evaluation of a school-based programs for children with anxiety. The University of Adelaide Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Jane Cope
    2021 - ongoing Principal Supervisor Telehealth validation of the WAIS IV (full scale IQ score). The University of Adelaide Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Vanessa Bartholomaeus
    2021 - ongoing Principal Supervisor Telehealth validation of the WAIS IV (Perceptual Reasoning and Processing Speed Index scorex). The University of Adelaide Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Nicholas Chronowski
    2021 - ongoing Principal Supervisor Evaluating psychosocial guidelines for care of infants and children in ICU after suspected child abuse or maltreatment. The University of Adelaide Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Victoria Rivis
    2020 - 2021 Co-Supervisor A longitudinal examination of the relationship between Aboriginal mothers’ experiences of racism and children’s mental health. Primary supervisor The University of Adelaide Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Gemma Synder
    2020 - 2021 Co-Supervisor What factors at age 10-11 are predictive of eating disorder symptoms in adolescence? Testing the transdiagnostic theory of eating disorders in adolescents using longitudinal data. The University of Adelaide Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Kiu Lam Chan
    2019 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Mental Health Problems and Academic Failure: A Worry for Adolescents. The University of Adelaide Honours in Psychology Honours Jane Cope
    2019 - 2019 Principal Supervisor Parenting as a predictor of child development: The association between maternal parenting styles in childhood and adolescent emotional and behavioural problems. The University of Adelaide Honours in Psychology Honours Monique Girardo
    2019 - 2019 Co-Supervisor The Subjective Experiences of Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Who Have Completed Mother-Infant Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (MI-DBT). The University of Adelaide Honours in Psychology Honours Jaimee Francis
    2018 - 2018 Principal Supervisor The Effect of Parental Self-Efficacy on the Behaviour of Infants, Whose Mothers present with Depressive Symptoms. The University of Adelaide Honours in Psychology Honours Carley Davies
    2014 - 2015 Co-Supervisor The role of parental conflict in children’s mental health problems. The University of Adelaide, Research and Evaluation Unit, WCHN Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Jo Carbone
    2013 - 2014 Co-Supervisor The role of attention in mental health problems. The University of Adelaide Master of Psychology (Clinical) Master Sharni Searle
  • Memberships

    Date Role Membership Country
    2014 - ongoing Member Member of The Australian Psychological Society College of Clinical Psychologist Australia
    2013 - ongoing Member NHMRC Research Translation faculty Australia
    2013 - 2015 Member Early Career Researchers Committee, School of Population Health, Adelaide University.
    2012 - ongoing Member Healthy Kids Cluster Australia
    2011 - ongoing Member The Australian Psychological Society Australia
    2011 - ongoing Member Australian Association for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Australia
    2008 - ongoing Member Healthy Development Adelaide Australia

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