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Researcher Spotlight with Dr Ewa Siedlecka

24 March 2022
Researcher Spotlight: Dr Ewa Siedlecka
We spoke to Dr Ewa Siedlecka about her current work on the National Comorbidity Guidelines and her journey from PhD to Postdoctoral Researcher at the Matilda Centre.
Dr Ewa Siedlecka

Dr Ewa Siedlecka

What is your background and how did you come to join the Matilda Centre?

My background is in psychology; more specifically, I received my PhD in emotion and time perception from the University of New South Wales in 2020. Graduating during a pandemic was less than ideal, but I was fortunate enough to secure some work with a data science start-up company focusing on national and international translational research with a social impact. As part of this role, I examined solutions to social issues such as how to improve community resilience in the context of mining activity. I also contributed to work on clinical trials aiming to improve mental health in high schools. These experiences provided the foundation for conducting controlled research in real-world settings, as well as translating and disseminating research findings to a broader audience, which have been highly applicable to my work on the Comorbidity Project here at the Matilda Centre.

Tell us about your research?

My research at the Matilda Centre has primarily focused on reviewing the evidence which forms part of the development of the third edition of the Comorbidity Guidelines (Guidelines on the management of co-occurring alcohol and other drug and mental health conditions in alcohol and other drug treatment settings). The Guidelines provide alcohol and other drug workers with evidence-based information on the management of co-occurring mental health conditions, to increase the capacity of workers to respond to comorbidity. Since the second edition of the Guidelines became available in June 2016, more than 23,000 copies have been distributed Australia-wide and embedded within 79 tertiary training institutes across the country. An interactive online training program to accompany the second edition was launched in November 2017, which aims to facilitate the uptake of the Guidelines into practice. Since that time, more than 7,000 registrants have been using the online training, and more than 1,650 people have completed the full course. I’m confident that the updated third edition will have a similarly strong impact and widespread use.

In addition to my work at the Matilda Centre, I am also involved in several international collaborations examining the effects of nature and nature-based therapies on mental health and substance use. Although the beneficial aspects of nature are well-recognised in some countries – for example, Japan, where you can receive 'nature prescriptions' from your general physician – it is far from a well-studied or widely-implemented practice. In particular, I'm really excited about developing theoretical and empirical foundations for nature as an effective prevention for substance use, which is a novel area of research.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I never tire of hearing how much people love the Comorbidity Guidelines and how useful they find them in their work. They're an absolutely amazing resource, and it has been extremely rewarding to work on a project with this degree of translational impact.

It has been extremely rewarding to work on a project with this degree of translational impact.
Dr Ewa Siedlecka

However, I've often thought the most rewarding part of research in general is being able to ask your own questions about the world and having the skills to then answer those questions. I'm a naturally curious person and feel lucky to have this trait constantly stimulated through my work.

What do you like most about working at the Matilda Centre?

The strong female leadership! Women are often underrepresented in academic leadership positions, and the strong female leadership was the first thing I noticed when I started working here. It's also very collaborative. The Matilda Centre is one of the few places I have worked where people in positions of authority will regularly ask for and incorporate the opinions and feedback of people at  every level.

What are you passionate about?

Nature, fitness, and hobbies! I think it's so important to keep busy and find interests that stimulate you and fill your time; everyone’s life needs multiple dimensions! For me, that involves a lot of time outdoors. My greatest love and passion in life is caving, I feel the most alive and energised after time spent underground.

What is your all-time favourite quote?

An old Zen saying: "You should spend 20 minutes in nature every day – if you're too busy, you should spend an hour".

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