Dr Vilas Sawrikar

Lecturer in Clinical Psychology

Background

I am a Lecturer of Clinical Psychology in the School of Health and Social Sciences. My work focuses on optimising early intervention outcomes in the treatment of behavioural and emotional disorders among children and young people. I have also previously worked as a Health Economist at the Victoria Department of Health implementing components of Australia’s National Health Reform Agreement, including optimisation of hospital funding systems and resource allocation for the Home and Community Care program. 

My research area of interest is evidence-based early intervention in mental health. I evaluate contemporary clinical perspectives in treating and preventing behavioural and emotional disorders in children and young people (e.g., conduct problems, anxiety, depression). These perspectives include the science of personalising interventions, developmental psychopathology, and transdiagnostic clinical staging models in mental health. I apply these models to understand individual differences in the course of mental illness through transitions in early stages of life, beginning from behavioural-emotional problems in childhood to emotional disorders in adolescence and young adulthood. In line with this, I explore novel approaches to optimising treatment outcomes through theory-driven developments in clinical practice and treatment formats. I go beyond asking ‘do treatments work’, to ask ‘how to optimise treatment outcomes and prevent persistent mental illness’. The aim is to determine how best to organise interventions in ways that are sensitive to, and capitilise on, individual differences in developmental risk pathways to mental illness, treatment response, relapse, and illness progression.  

There are currently four areas I am evaluating these models:

1. Personalising parenting interventions for conduct problems: This is pursued through examining child- and parent-level correlates of conduct problems relevant to predicting and moderating outcomes. Areas of research include (i) conduct problem subtypes, (ii) transdiagnostic conceptualisation of behavioural and emotional problems, and (iii) parenting processes (parental attributions, expressed emotion) potentially worthy of focus in parenting interventions. 

2. Child prevention and early intervention research: Half of all lifetime disorders emerge during childhood; thus, intervening in these early years is important to preventing a life course of poor mental health. In this context, I examine developmental pathways to behavioural and emotional problems emerging in childhood and am interested in evaluating transdiagnostic clinical paradigms that aim to ensure that primary objectives of treatment and secondary prevention of progression to chronic, persistent illness are achieved.

3. Risk and resilience in youth and young adulthood. I examine both risk and protective processes associated with persistent emotional problems in adolescence and young adulthood.

4. Treatment accessibility and engagement. This is pursued through examining (ii) dissemination of early intervention programs, (ii) digital health technology to support mental health care, (iii) social-economic and health service determinants of service utilisation, and (iv) policy and program development for improving treatment accessibility, help-seeking, and engagement.

Qualifications

PhD in Clinical Psychology

Ms in Clinical Psychology

Graduate/Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology

Ms Applied Statitistics

B Economics

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?

Yes

Research summary

My area of interest is evidence-based early intervention in mental health. I evaluate contemporary clinical perspectives in treating and preventing behavioural and emotional disorders in children and young people. These perspectives include the science of personalising interventions, developmental psychopathology, and clinical staging in mental health. I apply these models to understand individual differences in the course of mental illness through transitions in early stages of life, beginning from behavioural-emotional problems in childhood to emotional disorders in adolescence and young adulthood. In line with this, I explore novel approaches to optimising treatment outcomes through theory-driven developments in clinical practice and treatment formats. I go beyond asking ‘do treatments work’, to ask ‘how to optimise outcomes for those at-risk for poor outcomes’. The aim is to determine how best to organise interventions in ways that are sensitive to, and capitilise on, individual differences in developmental risk pathways to mental illness, treatment response, relapse, illness extension (e.g., self-harm, suicidality) and illness progression.  

There are currently four areas I am evaluating these models:

1. Personalising parenting interventions for conduct problems: This is pursued through examining child- and parent-level correlates of conduct problems relevant to predicting and moderating outcomes. Areas of research include (i) conduct problem subtypes, (ii) transdiagnostic conceptualisation of behavioural and emotional problems, and (iii) parenting processes (parental attributions, expressed emotion) potentially worthy of focus in parenting interventions. 

2. Child prevention and early intervention research: Half of all lifetime disorders emerge during childhood; thus, intervening in these early years is important to preventing a life course of poor mental health. I am interested in evaluating clinical paradigms for behavioural and emotional problems emerging in childhood that aim to ensure that primary objectives of treatment and secondary prevention are achieved.

3. Risk and resilience in youth and young adulthood. I examine both risk and protective processes associated with emotional health in the context of adolescence and young adulthood.

4. Treatment accessibility and engagement. This is pursued through examining (ii) dissemination of early intervention programs, (ii) digital health technology to support mental health care, (iii) social-economic and health service determinants of service utilisation, and (iv) policy and program development for improving treatment accessibility, help-seeking, and engagement.

Past research interests

Health cost and funding systems to determine allocation of economic resources

Project activity

Using digital technology to meet needs of youth with mental health problems 

When considering how to provide mental health services at scale, eHealth and mHealth show promise. The problem is, treatment engagement, retention, and adherence rates are notoriously poor in online mental health programs. The project seeks to evaluate the use of digital technology by young people seeking or receiving help for mental health concerns. Research domains of interest include utilisation rates of digital technology for mental health problems, help-seeking intentions and behaviours using digital technology, barriers to using digital technology for mental health, stigma, and user preferences. 

Adverse life experiences, family environment, and risk and resilience in young people.

There is growing interest in what role resilience and cognitive coping style may have in response to stressul life events. The proposed project aims to understand the nature of resilient thoughts and behaviour, as well as family and social support, in preventing the onset and persistence of anxiety/depression after stressful events among young people. 

Engaging fathers in early intervention programs 

The project will pilot test an online Practitioner Training Program aimed at increasing practitioner skills in working with fathers. There are two main aims for this project: Identify major barriers to engaging fathers in the UK context and evaluate the effectiveness of an online training program. This project is part of a multi-site international study across the UK and Canada funded by the Movember Foundation. 

Clinical staging in youth mental disorders 

Clinical staging models aim to identify where a person sits in their course of mental illness to understand markers of illness progression. The clinical staging framework encourages pre-emptive and preventive intervention rather than treating established mental disorders where the risk for persistent and recurrent mental illness is greatest. I am interested in by refining our understanding of how to personalise treatments according to clinical stage to help prevent illness progression.

View all 10 publications on Research Explorer