Professor Frank Deane in a black and gold gown and cap in front of a UOW media wall. Photo: Andy Zakeli

Emeritus Professor devoted career to improving mental health services

Emeritus Professor devoted career to improving mental health services

Professor Frank Deane reflects on commitment to patient-oriented care

Even as an intern, Professor Frank Deane knew there had to be a better way to help the people suffering from mental illness. 

From those early experiences, he has spent his career finding those pathways, helping to give patients and clients their own voice regarding treatment. 

His commitment to patient-oriented care models has been recognised globally, with national and international awards including the Distinguished Career Award by the Australian Association of Cognitive and Behaviour Therapy in 2019, the Research Award at the National Drug and Alcohol Awards for his work in the addiction field, and multiple Australian and New Zealand Mental Health Service Achievement Awards. 

He has published more than 360 articles throughout his career and has had over 22,500 citations, which is a major achievement for a researcher who has dedicated his time to highly applied, clinically focused research in the mental health and substance dependence research field.  

His work in the field of clinical psychology is now being recognised with an Emeritus Professorship from the University of Wollongong (UOW). The honour was conferred yesterday (Wednesday 1 November) during the graduation ceremony for the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. 

But it was those first early years after graduating from university in New Zealand that set the course for Professor Deane. 

During his internship he was working at an older, rural facility where treatment was medication-heavy and where other forms of treatment were secondary. 

“Even from the early days, I thought we must be able to do more than this,” he said. 

Over the next eight years, he continued to work in a variety of clinical settings and always came to the same conclusion. 

After training as a clinical psychologist in New Zealand, where he completed a Masters and post-graduate diploma in clinical psychology, Professor Deane moved to the United States where he worked as a clinical psychologist for five years. 

He moved back to New Zealand to complete his PhD and always believed he would return to full-time clinical practice, but realised he had a passion for research and teaching. 

“I have broad interests in applied clinical research related to treatment of mental health problems,” he said.  

“More specific areas of interest are related to why people are reluctant to seek help for mental health problems, what barriers to care they experience and how we might facilitate help-seeking.” 

Professor Deane is passionate about finding out what components of psychosocial treatments are effective, with interests in goal and action planning and the role of therapeutic alliance in treatment.  

He began work at UOW in 1998 and was promoted to Professor in 2000, then to Senior Professor in 2015 before retiring in November 2020. 

“Mental health has traditionally been a paternalistic style of treatment and in the late 1990s there was a shift around trying to increase the involvement and hear the voices of people with mental illness and collaborate much more around that,” he said. 

 “I wanted to work around that expansion of what was considered an appropriate treatment response by helping patients focus on their goals, and not just management of symptoms, but to improve their quality of life even if they were experiencing persistent symptoms.” 

Professor Deane was at the forefront of this change in treatment style, empowering patients and educating the psychology community on its benefits. 

“At the time we started doing this, the philosophy around it was developing quite strongly but we were not sure how to put it into practice,” he said. 

After obtaining funding, the team with which he was collaborating were able to develop a training program for professionals working in mental health that would support this consumer-focused treatment. 

“It wasn’t the end game,” he said. 

“Over the years there have been other developments that stay true to recovery-oriented care but ours was one of the first and we got evidence of the effectiveness of it. 

“It was one of those things where a lot of service providers said they were already doing what we suggested but when we asked their clients and reviewed some of their record keeping it was clear that while they may have some of those orientations their day-to-day practice was far from consistent.” 

Throughout his decades-long career, Professor Deane has remained true to his principles that there needs to be a more community-based approach to supporting complex mental illness. 

To this end he has sought out collaborations with some of the country’s most prominent community organisations including the Salvation Army, Lifeline, We Help Ourselves, and St Vincent de Paul to conduct research and design treatment protocols that put the needs of the patients at the forefront. 

Through these partnerships he guided the development of Collaborative Recovery, a highly innovative model of service delivery for people living with severe and persistent mental illness such as schizophrenia.  

This model of care has been used by several service providers including NEAMI National, one of the largest providers of non-government mental health treatment in Australia.  

“There is much more acceptance of mental illness now,” he said. 

“And recovery-oriented treatment philosophies and methods are now being more routinely included in professional psychology programs. 

“Even through the pandemic, and the exceptional circumstances related to that, it was much more accepted that under such situations it was reasonable to experience some kind of psychological distress and the appropriate response was to seek support from others. 

“I think as a profession we are now putting the goals of clients front and centre. 

“Certainly, in some settings, all you can do is manage the symptoms of someone’s mental illness, but if clinicians can take the time to listen and work with the patient’s vision for life and help them identify that, it can have much better outcomes.” 

Professor Peter Kelly, Professor Frank Deane and Professor Sue Bennett stand in front of a UOW media wall. Photo: Andy Zakeli Professor Peter Kelly from the School of Psychology, Professor Frank Deane, and Senior Professor Sue Bennett, Executive Dean of the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. 

Although he officially retired in 2020, Professor Deane is continuing to collaborate on research projects and supervise students. 

He is still playing an active role in research and other initiatives including helping to lead a multi-university collaborative initiative on practicum competencies. 

He is on several advisory committees, such as the Research Advisory Committee for SMART Recovery Australia, and continues to collaborate on a series of studies it is conducting with SMART Recovery.  

Providing support to rural and regional centres across Australia is also one of Professor Deane’s passions. 

He is currently collaborating on a research project with the Peregrine Centre that is seeking to transform rural mental health practice in NSW through training and research activities. 

The partnership is focussed on improving mental health practice in rural, regional, and remote areas across NSW by supporting research and training and meeting the needs of rural mental health practitioners. 

“In all the time I have been involved with and training psychologists there has been constant pressure on staffing and capacity to train sufficient number of people,” he said. 

“A couple of previous psychology PhD students from UOW are involved in the research with the Peregrine Centre and it also allows me stay engaged with clinical research.” 

He says he is honoured to receive the Emeritus Professorship. 

“It is recognition for my contribution to the University in diverse ways, from teaching to research,” he said. 

“My career is in its twilight years, and when I retired in 2020 I was still supervising 15 doctoral students. 

“I’m down to the last five or six now, but I have loved continuing to work with these students for the past two years. 

 “For me, that was one of the nicest parts of the work, seeing bright, conscientious, talented students grow, and to see them navigate the ups and downs of research projects. 

“They go on to make contributions to conducting research in clinical settings and that is very encouraging for me. It gets them and me closer to real-world challenges that we need to address.”