Renae Beaumont is a dedicated advocate for the betterment of mental health and well-being, with a particular focus on children and adolescents. Her approach involves leveraging innovative technological tools and interventions to bring about positive change.
An exceptional achiever, Renae completed her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Queensland at the remarkably young age of 25. Her doctoral project was nothing short of groundbreaking – the creation and evaluation of the Secret Agent Society video-gaming-based group program, previously known as the Junior Detective Training Program. This program was specifically designed to enhance emotion regulation skills and social connectedness in autistic children.
Since its inception, the program has touched the lives of over 27,000 children and their families worldwide, and its effectiveness is supported by over 25 peer-reviewed publications. Renae’s work has not gone unnoticed, as she received the Advance Global Australia Award for Education in 2018 in recognition of her program’s global impact. She also earned the American Psychological Association, Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, Division 53 Award for Promoting Evidence-based Mental Health Services in 2021.
Renae’s contributions to the field of psychology expanded beyond her research. In 2015, she was invited to Weill Cornell Medicine/New York Presbyterian Hospital to co-lead a randomized controlled trial evaluating the effectiveness of the Secret Agent Society program for children with Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and/or an Anxiety Disorder. The results of the trial demonstrated the program’s efficacy for children with any of these diagnoses, with improvements maintained six months after program completion. This research provided valuable insights into the potential of innovative interventions.
Renae’s passion for improving mental health extends into her clinical work, where she is committed to using technology to enhance access, engagement, and outcomes for youth facing mental health challenges. This encompasses a range of technological tools, including apps, online games, wearables, virtual reality, and human insights software. Her innovative and impactful approach is a testament to her dedication to making a positive difference in the lives of those she serves.
From a young age, Renae has harbored a profound fascination for the human mind and behavior.
Simultaneously, she has held a deep affection for working with young people. Her journey towards becoming a clinical psychologist was marked by a unique chapter as a flute teacher. In this role, Renae reveled in the creativity and challenge of connecting with students on a personal level, tapping into their individual interests and passions, and using the power of music to help them comprehend and express their emotions.
Renae’s passion for her work as a clinical psychologist is rooted in the extraordinary developmental trajectory of children’s brains. She views it as a privilege to be able to positively influence this process by teaching young individuals essential skills. These skills include managing their emotions, cultivating resilience, and fostering meaningful relationships with others. In her view, these are the fundamental pillars for overall well- being and success, both on an individual level and for society as a whole.
Renae is continually amazed by the profound positive changes she witnesses in children when they are equipped with the skills and support necessary to truly thrive, both in their personal lives and as contributing members of our wider community.
Bridging Generational Gaps in Youth Therapy
Renae’s commitment to her profession is exemplified by her dedication to staying informed and up-to-date. She diligently attends professional conferences, meetings, and workshops while keeping abreast of the latest publications in the realms of health technology and psychology. This commitment ensures that she remains well-versed in the evolving landscape of her field.
However, Renae understands the importance of more than just academic knowledge, especially when working with children and teenagers. She recognizes that it’s equally vital to be in tune with current pop culture trends. Understanding what music they are listening to, what shows and books they are engaging with, which video games they are playing, and even the latest dance crazes helps in crafting creative and relatable approaches to connect with youth and maintain relevance.
Renae’s “spare” time is dedicated to exploring these cultural spaces, allowing her to bridge the generational gap, connect with her patients on a more personal level, and provide effective and empathetic care.
Personalized Therapy, Cultural Sensitivity, and Tech Innovation
Renae’s approach to therapy for children and adolescents is deeply rooted in recognizing their uniqueness. She understands that every young individual is distinct and, as a result, it’s essential to invest the time in getting to know each person’s individual likes and dislikes. For instance, if a child has a strong affection for Harry Potter, Renae tailors her therapy by using relevant examples and analogies from the wizarding world, such as “poisonous thoughts” and “antidotes,” to make the concepts more relatable and engaging.
Moreover, Renae underscores the significance of personalizing therapy to align with each child’s distinctive values, culture, goals, and family priorities. Rather than making assumptions, she actively engages with both the child and their caregivers to understand how sociocultural factors and life events have contributed to shaping their worldview and preferences.
In terms of leveraging technology and innovation for youth mental health, Renae values the capacity for users to customize apps and online programs. She highlights the example of the Secret Agent Society, where users can create visual scenes to illustrate how they’ve applied social-emotional skills in their daily lives. Acknowledging and supporting different learning styles and preferences is a key consideration in therapeutic encounters with children and adolescents.
For instance, she might incorporate role-plays, active games, and movement activities for children who struggle to sit still. On the other hand, for more reserved individuals, the therapy might commence with drawing comic strips, writing a story, or verbal descriptions before progressing to scenarios that build their confidence in acting out different responses. This adaptive and personalized approach ensures that therapy is engaging, effective, and tailored to the specific needs of each young patient.
Prevention, Early Intervention, and Education
Renae underscores the critical importance of prevention and early intervention in enhancing the mental health and well-being of youth on a broader scale. This comprehensive approach includes various components, from mass media mental health campaigns that feature entertainment and sports icons to the routine screening of mental health concerns during doctor’s visits and at school.
Renae particularly highlights the pivotal role of schools in providing targeted mental health support to students when they want and need it. She believes that teaching children to self-regulate and build positive interpersonal skills is fundamental. Without these skills, their academic performance is likely to suffer.
In addition, Renae emphasizes the significance of universal access to evidence-based parenting programs. These programs can be a powerful tool in preventing behavioral and emotional issues in children. She acknowledges the potential for apps and online programs, provided they have proper safeguards in place, to deliver these and other prevention and early intervention strategies in a quality-assured, scalable, and cost-effective manner. This comprehensive approach strives to build a healthier and more resilient youth population.
Children with the Support of Caregivers
In Renae’s approach to child and adolescent therapy, she places caregivers at the heart of a child’s support network. This philosophy is reflected both in the Secret Agent Society Program and in her broader clinical practice. She actively and thoroughly involves caregivers in the therapeutic process.
When initially meeting with children and teenagers, Renae emphasizes the importance of safety. She informs them that if any information suggests a risk of self-harm or harm to others, she must share this with their caregivers to ensure the well-being of the young person. However, Renae respects the need for confidentiality on other matters unless there are safety concerns.
At the end of each session with a young individual, Renae typically seeks permission to inform caregivers about the skills discussed and practiced. She then coaches caregivers on how to support the application of these skills in the child’s daily life, facilitating the transfer of skills learned in therapy to real-world situations. This collaborative approach ensures that caregivers are actively involved in the child’s progress and overall well-being.
Innovative Approach to Youth Therapy
Over the years, Renae’s approach to working with children and teenagers has evolved to become more experiential and less didactic. She has transitioned to focusing more on listening and practising skills with her young patients rather than talking and explaining concepts in such detail.
Renae’s approach often involves recreating real-life situations during therapy sessions, allowing children and youth to practice coping skills with her support. Virtual reality environments have proven to be valuable tools for this purpose, as they provide safe spaces for young individuals to practice skills that can be challenging to simulate in real life. For instance, a young person nervous about speaking in front of a class can practice in a virtual environment before attempting it in reality.
One of the key lessons Renae has learned over time is the importance of dedicated focus and collaborative planning for supporting young people to practice and apply skills in their daily lives, often with visual reminders and support from parents and school staff. Also, in recent years, Renae has integrated technology into her clinical work to enhance therapeutic engagement, enjoyment, and outcomes for young clients, recognizing the value of using technology as a tool to connect with and support children and teenagers effectively.
Nurturing Youth Mental Health
Renae’s personal mission in life is deeply rooted in improving the mental health and well-being of young people. Her greatest sense of professional fulfillment comes from guiding children to confront and conquer challenges and helping them to establish and nurture meaningful friendships—often for the first time in their lives.
Renae defines her professional success by witnessing the genuine happiness, pride, and sense of accomplishment that children experience when they overcome their fears and connect with others who truly understand and value them. These moments of growth and connection are, in her view, some of the most significant in life. She considers it a privilege to play a small yet vital role in creating these invaluable moments for the young people she works with.
Adapting Youth Mental Health Services in the Digital Age
Renae’s practice underwent a significant transformation due to COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, telehealth visits were not a part of her patient care approach. However, in response to the crisis, she transitioned to treating patients 100% remotely. Now that the situation has stabilized, she sees 30% of her patients via telehealth, based on the age/crisis situation of the patient.
The Secret Agent Society program also had to evolve in light of the pandemic. Originally a hybrid of both online and physical program materials, it transitioned to a 100% interactive online version accessible via an integrated platform. This allows professionals to flexibly deliver the program through telehealth or in- person sessions and to digitally monitor program engagement and outcomes.
Renae has witnessed firsthand how technology can enhance the efficiency, accessibility, and effectiveness of youth mental health services. It has proven to be a valuable tool for engaging patients. However, she acknowledges important considerations and cautions, including data privacy and security, requirements related to internet access and device compatibility, and the potential risk of exacerbating screen-time addiction in some individuals. Additionally, patients sometimes turn to clinicians for technical support with devices, apps, and online programs, which can be a source of frustration for time-poor healthcare professionals.
The rise of Artificial Intelligence in medicine raises concerns about the accuracy of the data sets used to train Large Language Models (LLMs) that inform clinical decision-making. Ensuring that these data sets are racially and culturally representative of the larger population is an important consideration. Balancing the benefits of technology with these considerations remains an ongoing challenge in modern healthcare.
Championing Youth Mental Health
Renae is deeply passionate about actively contributing to the development, implementation, evaluation, and widespread adoption of innovative, evidence-based approaches aimed at addressing the pressing issue of youth mental health. What makes her commitment stand out is her dedication to working in collaboration and consultation with the young individuals she serves, their caregivers, school staff and other healthcare providers. She firmly believes that our children are the cornerstone of our future.
By equipping them with the skills to build authentic connections with others and effectively cope with everyday challenges and setbacks, they are empowered to transform their dreams into tangible reality. Renae’s profound dedication underscores her belief in the transformative power of supporting young people in achieving their full potential.