Professor Cecilia Essau works in the Department of Psychology at Roehampton and specialises in researching the factors that may lead to emotional and behavioural problems in young people. Her research aims to enhance the assessment of childhood and adolescent mental health and to design more effective interventions to help young people live healthy lives. Read on to find out more about Professor Cecilia’s life and latest work.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Yes, I was born and grew up in the tropical jungle of Borneo Island, in Sarawak, Malaysia. I belong to the indigenous group called the Iban. The Iban traditionally live in a longhouse, with up to 100 families living under one roof.
After completing my Senior Cambridge examination in Sarawak, I went to Canada where I did my High school Diploma at Hillcrest High school in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I obtained my undergraduate and Master degrees from Lakehead University (Canada), my PhD from the University of Konstanz (Germany), and my “Habilitation” in Psychology from the University of Bremen (Germany); “Habilitation” is the requirement to apply for tenure-track full professorships in Germany.
I am the first Iban woman to have received a PhD.
How did you start your research interest in young people’s mental health?
My first clinical internship at Lakehead University, Canada. It was with the psychogeriatric, the study of aging and prevention. I worked with people in their 80s. After finishing my Masters degree in Clinical Psychology, I had the opportunity to work as a clinician as well as a researcher at the Max-Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, where I worked with adults with a wide range of mental disorders. It became obvious at that time that many adults who had a mental disorder reported that their disorders usually occurred very early in life. Some disorders even start as early as 6 years old. Thus, in order to prevent the development of mental disorders, we must do prevention work as early as possible.
Can you tell us about your latest work?
Super Skills for Life (SSL) is a programme that culminates in over thirty years of research. I have developed this with Professor Thomas Ollendick of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, USA. It is an interactive evidence-based programme which develops resilience and self-esteem in children and adolescents to help them with coping strategies for dealing with stress, conflict, and life changes. We have rolled this across a number of countries.
Many mental disorders that begin early in children’s life tend to be chronic if they are not treated. This often leads to a wide range of impairments in adulthood. To support these students, we have been conducting a series of workshops world-wide, and providing teachers and other professionals with skills that they need to support young peoples’ mental health. We are also collaborating with the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Malaysia in implementing SSL in 7 states in Malaysia.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to study young people’s mental health or take a Psychology degree?
I would recommend those interested in studying young people’s mental health to do a degree in Psychology. At Roehampton, we offer several courses on mental health and we have staff members who specialise in a wide range of mental disorders who could supervise student’s thesis in this area.
Social Skills for Life is building resilience, emotional and cognitive skills. Watch the video about the programme below!