Dr Sarah SwannellDirector and Clinical Psychologist
Sarah is driven by a desire to help people live rich and meaningful lives. Sarah predominantly works with adults who struggle with emotional dysregulation and the behaviours that often go along with that (impulsivity, addictions, self-destructive behaviours etc), with a special interest in borderline personality disorder / complex PTSD and dissociative disorders.
Sarah commenced her psychology career in research, working as Senior Researcher in the Discipline of Psychiatry at The University of Queensland from 2005-2014. She commenced clinical work in 2007, achieved full registration as a psychologist in 2009, completed a PhD in 2013, and earned a Master of Clinical Psychology in 2020.
Sarah has 15 years of clinical experience across a variety of settings, including private practice, community mental health, and acute inpatient private and public psychiatric hospitals. From 2013 to 2021 she coordinated the outpatient DBT Program at The Prince Charles Hospital (Brisbane). Sarah is skilled in addressing a wide range of difficulties among clients across all age groups, with a particular focus on working with individual adults and facilitating group therapy.
In her private practice, Sarah sees adult clients for individual therapy. Areas of expertise include the treatment of borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation / dissociative disorders, eating disorders and self-harm behaviours.
Sarah primarily utilises Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Ego State Therapy / Parts work, Schema Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, working from a trauma-informed approach and heavily informed by the theory of structural dissociation and neurobiology of attachment. Sarah believes that effective therapy goes beyond simply changing the way we think about things (although this is important) – it must change what we know and feel in our bodies.
Sarah believes in the importance of taking a comprehensive history, as this forms the foundation of an accurate treatment plan. History taking commences in your first session but is paced at a rate you are comfortable with - you have no obligation to disclose any information before you feel ready. In many cases, Sarah will invite you to complete additional psychological assessments to assist her in better understanding your needs. Together, you will talk about your goals and develop a plan. The length of treatment depends on your needs and goals.
In addition to seeing individual clients, Sarah also coordinates and runs the Willow Oak Psychology stand-alone DBT Skills Groups. The groups are run adherently to Marsha Linehan’s specification for the skills group component of comprehensive DBT. Stand-alone DBT Skills Groups are suitable for participants who do not require the intensity of a fully comprehensive DBT program. You can find more information about these groups here.
For individuals who are not suitable for stand-alone DBT groups, Sarah recommends participating in a comprehensive DBT program, such as that offered by DBTBrisbane, with which Sarah is affiliated. You can read about suitability for comprehensive DBT here.
Other Activities and Interests
Sarah volunteers her time to coordinate the Brisbane North Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Mental Health Professionals’ Network and holds an Academic Title of Lecturer at The University of Queensland. Sarah has advanced training in DBT and is a Trained EMDR Practitioner with the EMDR Association of Australia (EMDRAA). Sarah is a member of the EMDR International Association (EMDRIA), the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), and the Organized and Extreme Abuse Special Interest Group (OEA-SIG) of the ISSTD.
In her spare time, Sarah enjoys riding her road bike, reading, and spending time with her two young children.