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Beating the drum for mental health

Cite Magazine

For musician, lecturer and Curtin alumni Matthew Ruggiero, psychology was not so much a calling, but an accidental discovery.

“I stumbled into it … and ended up really enjoying it,” he says. In the eight years since his graduation from a Bachelor of Psychology in 2007, Ruggiero has come full circle (or two), returning to Curtin to complete a PhD and then to work as a lecturer in the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology.

As a PhD student his studies centred on performance anxiety – a concept that, as a musician since early childhood, Ruggiero has both seen and experienced.

“Many performing musicians report that they experience anxiety that is bad enough to affect the quality of their performance,” he says, explaining that when anxious, the brain can become very focused on identifying potential threats in the immediate environment, such as possible criticism in the face of a music critic.

“My research shows that it is not anxiety per se, but rather the extent to which a musician is able to retain sufficient attentional focus on the task at hand, that determines whether mistakes are made,” Ruggiero says.

From theory to practice

Before becoming a lecturer at Curtin, Ruggiero worked as a principal psychologist at the Science of Self Psychology, where he helped build a psychology practice from the ground up for a low socio-economic community. Later, he moved to Fremantle Medicare Local as a senior mental health clinician to build and coordinate services for hard-to-reach populations.

He attributes part of his success to the training he received as an undergraduate.

“There was a very strong focus on critical thinking – asking relevant questions to think more deeply than I might upon first glance,” says Ruggiero. “This skill has been an immense benefit to me across all of the roles I have had.”

Tuned to teach

Now teaching applied developmental psychology and neurobiology to Master of Counselling Psychology students, Ruggiero encourages his students to think about the importance of each client’s personal history.

“I love teaching in Psychology,” Ruggiero says. “I get to contribute to the lives of many more people than I could otherwise reach myself by training future psychologists.”

“I have learnt that there are very few easy answers in the complex mental health climate that exists in Australia. Finding ways to reach tough-to-reach communities is difficult. I try to communicate this and assist in the development of innovative thinking, both in my own practice and in the training I provide at Curtin.”

Outside his teaching role at Curtin, Ruggiero also runs a private psychology practice to give local communities access to much needed mental health services – a feature that Ruggiero hopes will continue to grow, along with his client-based work as a psychologist.

“I really enjoy what I am currently doing and the depth of interaction that it offers me,” says Ruggiero. “I am invited to contribute in meaningful ways to the lives of the clients and students with whom I interact.”

As for his music, when not teaching or running a practice, Ruggiero can be found drumming for Perth rock-pop band Hundred Acre Wood. They are planning tours for the east coast and Indonesia.

Graduate snapshot

Name: Matthew Ruggiero

Studied: Bachelor of Psychology

Graduated: 2007

Postgraduate study: Doctor of Philosophy (Counselling Psychology)

Graduated: 2010