Old Girl: Alana Browne – Psychologist and Equine Assisted Psychotherapist

If you had told me in high school that I would be working with horses I would have laughed, and said you were wrong.

At that point I had barely met a horse let alone had any interest in them. I had my heart set on being a Psychologist in Year 12. I remember trolling through the QTAC book in high school, ruling out University degrees I knew I was absolutely not interested in or had the aptitude for, and time and time again Psychology was the only degree left standing. Whilst it might sound like I chose Psychology through a process of elimination, I now know my personality traits, skills, and abilities meant I was always going to end up in the helping profession in one capacity or another.   

I attended Somerville House as a Boarder (coming from Bundaberg) from Year 8 through to Year 12, graduating in 1998. Whilst I suffered from homesickness terribly, my time at Somerville was some of the best years of my life. I could try and recall some funny or interesting memories however it is more the everyday happenings that I remember and that bring a smile to my face. A common theme in all of my memories of my time at Somerville and what it often comes down to for me, was the relationships. The connections and friendships that were formed and still maintained so strongly to this day.   

Knowing categorically that I wanted to study Psychology was both a blessing and curse. A blessing in the sense that I did not experience the anxiety that other students may have experienced not knowing what they wanted to do after leaving school. And a curse in that I had no back up plan if I was unable to get into the University degree required to become a Psychologist. I was an average student. My OP score was sufficient to get me into a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Queensland and after a year of studying this degree I successfully applied for a Bachelor of Psychological Science (Honours). Following an undergraduate degree in Psychology there are a number of different pathways to become a registered Psychologist and I chose to complete the 4 + 2 Supervised Practice Program (a pathway that is currently being retired by the Psychology Board). I gained my full registration as a Psychologist in 2006 and have been practising as a Psychologist in various roles since, mostly in the area of assessment and counselling. 

The field of Psychology is so broad and diverse. Over the course of my career I have worked in a variety of fields to see what interested me the most including alcohol and drug addiction, eating disorders, social security, and forensic psychology. I have worked in various sectors including non-government organisations, state and federal government. My time working for Corrections Victoria, predominantly assessing and treating violent offenders both in prison and the community has been by far my most interesting role. Not only was learning about criminal behaviour and working in a prison environment fascinating, but the opportunity to build rapport with some of the most resistant and complex clients was a privilege that brought me great work satisfaction.  

Alana Browne Old Girl They say we change careers 5-7 times over the course of our lives. When I was in my early 30s, horses became involved in my life in a meaningful way. Just for fun really and out of curiosity, I decided to study Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) through The Equine Psychotherapy Institute, in Daylesford Victoria. Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) is psychological intervention for humans but incorporating horses into the therapy process. It is a form of animal-assisted therapy. For me, learning about and experiencing the therapeutic benefits of incorporating horses into my work meant I struggled to continue doing my usual room-based work knowing that there was a different therapy modality that I felt so passionate about. I remember I posted a photo of me spending time with horses on social media and made the comment, “this is so much better than work”. A friend commented, “why don’t you make it your work?”. And so, I did.

In 2018 I started my own business, Open Paddock Equine Assisted Psychology and since then, my business has continued to grow. Working outside in nature surrounded by horses, supporting clients with a variety of issues including complex developmental trauma, Autism Spectrum Disorder, mood and personality disorders, and other mental health conditions is something I never imagined myself doing but feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to support my clients in such a unique and meaningful way. I don’t pat myself on the back much in life, but I am proud to have taken a risk and forged a path to turn my passions into my work.  

I’ve never had a pre-defined career path. I’ve always trusted in the process, if I put one foot in front of the other then eventually I will land where I am meant to be. If you are considering a career in Psychology I would recommend researching what is involved and the different pathways available to becoming a registered Psychologist. Studying Psychology and becoming a

Psychologist are different things and I wish I had a greater understanding of that at the outset. There are also so many different pathways to achieve your end goal.

I wish my younger self knew that so I didn’t place all of my eggs in the one basket. Exposing yourself to lots of different subjects, people, jobs and being open-minded about where your work can take you is also helpful. I think it is important to hold in mind that as we evolve, learn more about ourselves, and develop different interests and hobbies after leaving school, our career paths can change and that is really exciting. It is said, if you find a job you love, you never work a day in your life.

Look at what you are passion about and what aligns with your life values and see how you can turn those things into a career.  

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Learn more about Alana's work here:

www.openpaddockpsychology.com.au

www.equinepsychotherapy.net.au

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