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Former ADF engineer finds new purpose in psychology

Man sitting in his office.
John Dowling served in the Australian Defence Force for nearly 17 years but is now a practising psychologist in Toowoomba, thanks to postgraduate studies at the University of Southern Queensland.

For close to 17 years, John Dowling served in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), spending more than a decade as an Army Combat Engineer and Explosive Ordnance Reconnaissance (EOR) technician, and completing two deployments to Afghanistan.

Nowadays, his life is a little different. He works three days a week as a psychologist in his own private practice, overlooking Laurel Bank Park in Toowoomba.

The other two days each week, Mr Dowling works as a contracted psychologist for the ADF, supporting serving members of the ADF in need of psychological support and intervention.

Mr Dowling said his career transition was made possible through his studies at the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ), which included a Southern Queensland Rural Health (SQRH) placement as well as experience gained working in a private practice setting.

“I had a close friend who was a psychologist and one day he just said to me, ‘If you’re interested in it, why don’t you go and study it?’,” Mr Dowling said.

“I started studying out of genuine curiosity and found that I really enjoyed it.”

Mr Dowling said the decision to study at the University of Southern Queensland was easy, thanks to the practical focus of the program and strong recommendations from student peers at the time.

“When I researched the available programs and spoke with other students, I noticed the UniSQ program had a larger focus on psychological intervention and included additional practical placements, which attracted me to this program above others,” he said.

“The experience I had at UniSQ, and the connections and professional relationships I made there, really spring-boarded me into this career.

“The teaching team made themselves so accessible to us; I would definitely say that’s a big advantage of studying here.”

And while he’s no longer scouring the ground for explosive devices, Mr Dowling said there was still a real intensity to his work as a psychologist.

“A lot of my work focuses on trauma and dissociation, and the amazing – but distressing – thing about the brain is that when people are sitting in the room and accessing that trauma, the physicality they experience is almost like the real thing. Psychology can be pretty incredible.”

The University of Southern Queensland is proud to offer its new Military Connected Student Friendly Campus Program – a series of specialised services to support active and former serving Australian military personnel and their partners – that will prepare students just like Mr Dowling for the transition from the military into higher education study.

Mr Dowling said he was pleased to see the Military Connected Student Friendly Campus Program offered to prospective UniSQ students because his initial experience transitioning into study at a different university had been a “rocky road”.

“My first application to a university as a mature age student was initially rejected because the admissions team could not make sense of my military service and how it could be mapped to an OP/ATAR equivalent,” he said.

“Thankfully, I followed the rejection letter up with a call and after a short discussion, I was accepted. I often reflect on how different my life would be if I hadn’t made that call; and how many other servicemen and women might have turned away from study if they too were initially rejected because their Defence service was not fully understood or recognised.

“That’s why I’m extremely pleased, and proud, of UniSQ for introducing the Military Connected Student Friendly Campus Program, which should allow current and former serving members to access tertiary education more readily and continue to serve their community and country once their Defence service has come to an end.”

Find out more about studying Psychology at the University of Southern Queensland, or find out about the Military Connected Student Friendly Campus Program.