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Advice for teachers -

​Unit 4 - Area of Study 2: What influences mental wellbeing?

Outcome 2​

Explain the concepts of mental health and mental illness including influences of risk and protective factors, apply a biopsychosocial approach to explain the development and management of specific phobia, and explain the psychological basis of strategies that contribute to mental wellbeing.​

Examples of learning activities

  • create a graphic organiser that organises mental health as a continuum
  • discuss: Is nature more, less or equally important as nurture in the development of mental health?
  • design and conduct a survey to determine whether people from larger families or a wider/closer circle of friends are more likely to classify themselves as ‘mentally healthy’; represent data using an appropriate graph format; draw a conclusion based on the data; discuss the strengths and limitations of the survey; suggest improvements to the survey
  • organise guest speakers on the topic of mental health; begin with your school psychologist or counsellor and consider inviting local mental health workers
  • view the video series: Collected Thoughts 1,2 3 (produced by the Dax Collection) and reflect on the experience of mental illness for a broad audience
  • organise an excursion to the Cunningham Dax Collection (art, creativity and education in mental health); note at least one accompanying teacher must have completed an authorised workshop prior to the visit (
  • create a mental wellness poster: identify the characteristics of a mentally healthy person and protective factors that prevent the occurrence or re-occurrence of mental health disorders
  • analyse this case study​ in relation to insomnia and depression; consider the risk factors for depression identified in the case study as well the use of cognitive behaviour therapy as an intervention to treat insomnia
  • investigate the physiological and psychological effects of stress including health issues (stress-induced illness and reduced immunity)
  • ask the school psychologist/welfare support/external consultant to conduct a workshop on how adequate diet and sleep, physical exercise and social support can be used to cope with stress and maintain mental health
  • design a brochure or pamphlet that indicates the social, cultural or environmental factors that exacerbate or alleviate the stress response
  • use a tri-Venn diagram to explain how the biopsychosocial framework can be used to consider mental health
  • create a mind-map that outlines the influence of particular biological, psychological and social risk factors on the development and progression of mental health disorders
  • visit the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia website and evaluate their factsheets, for example. Biopsychosocial model, Stress vulnerability coping model, Understanding anxiety, in terms of the information conta​ined and the level of detail presented relative to the knowledge covered in Unit 4 Psychology; work in groups/pairs/individuals to adjust a chosen factsheet to suit the level of Unit 4 Psychology
  • explain how fear can be distinguished from pho​bia
  • design and conduct an investigation using a survey to determine whether males or females are more prone to anxieties and/or phobias; develop a hypothesis including operationalised variables; explain how the survey participants were selected; represent data using an appropriate graph format; draw a conclusion based on the data; discuss the strengths and limitations of the survey; suggest improvements to the survey
  • select an example of a specific phobia and explain how the phobia may have developed, how it may affect an individual and their lifestyle and how it could be managed; discuss whether the selected phobia would be more debilitating at particular ages or for different cultural groups
  • complete a table to compare the factors that contribute to the development and progression of specific phobia: label three columns ‘Biological factors’, Psychological factors’ and ‘Social factors’; label four rows ‘predisposing risk factors’, ‘precipitating risk factors’, ‘perpetuating risk factors’ and ‘protective factors’; fill in each cell within the table with appropriate information for specific phobia
  • use a flowchart to illustrate how the process of systematic desensitisation can be used to treat a specific phobia; discuss why this management technique can be used for any example of specific phobia
  • discuss the role of systematic desensitisation in the treatment of specific phobia
  • produce a brochure that could be used by someone with a nominated specific phobia to understand: the nature of their condition; the biological, psychological and social factors categorised as risk and/or protective involved in the development and management of the condition; and the options for treatment/management of the condition
  • use the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ to examine the fear of dentists as a type of specific phobia; for each hat (White – Facts and Information, Red – Feelings and Emotions, Black – Critical Judgement, Yellow – Positive Judgement, Green – Alternatives and Learning, Blue – Big Picture), consider how a biopsychosocial framework is used to consider the influence of specific factors to the development of specific phobia as well as the use of particular evidence-based interventions in the treatment of specific phobia
  • Example icon for advice for teachers
    case study analysis: consider the application of a biopsychosocial framework as it applies to a range of case studies relating to specific phobia; these may be obtained from a range of psychology textbooks/websites​
  • select a few of the more common specific phobias; role-play or create a PowerPoint that illustrates the specific phobia and what some simple management techniques might be
  • in groups, select an example of a specific phobia to investigate in terms of the biopsychosocial framework; present the selected phobia to the class; class members use a data sheet to record how the biopsychosocial framework can be used to understand and manage the selected phobia
  • use the following case study summary of events related to classical conditioning and the development of a phobia to create a cartoon sequence that illustrates how the phobia developed and can be treated and identify the neutral stimulus, the unconditioned stimulus, the unconditioned response, the conditioned stimulus and the conditioned response: ‘Vicky is a four-year-old child who is playing in the backyard with her sisters; she picked up a dandelion and just as she blew on the seed head a basketball hit her hard on the head; Vicky was upset and burst into tears; years later, Vicky became agitated when she saw a dandelion and experienced an increased heartbeat, sweaty palms and rapid breathing’
  • invent a phobia or consider an unfamiliar phobia (for example, students in a class select a different phobia from a hat); suggest possible contributing biological, psychological and social factors in the development and perpetration of the phobia; propose possible interventions for the management of the phobia including biological, psychological and social treatments; use the 4P factor model (predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating and protective) to analyse the phobia; discuss the advantages and disadvantages in using a biopsychosocial approach compared with the 4P factor model to analyse specific phobia
  • undertake research to investigate why some young children have a fear of Santa Claus when going on a pre-Christmas visit at a local shopping centre or community location; develop a set of ‘handy hints’ for mothers planning to take their children to visit Santa Claus
  • explain why owning a pet can be a protective factor in alleviating stress including reference to contemporary research for example Scientists Show Dogs Are a Wonderful Source of Comfort After a Tragedy​ 
  • adapt the 4P factor model (predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating and protective) to categorise factors that affect learning
  • visit the National Sleep Foundation website​ ​to ex​plain how adequate diet and sleep can be protective factors in the maintenance of mental health for shift workers
  • evaluate and discuss the following workplace mental health management principles in terms of protective factors and resilience:​ ​
    • ​start with the right attitude (self-talk counts)
    • listen to others for perspective
    • don’t assume or attach meanings too quickly
    • let people help you
    • stand back and watch quietly as needed
    • be prepared to make mistakes
    • make your progress visible
    • have fun when you can!
  • ​​​access the advice at the Ace fitness website​ to analyse the five stages of the ​transth​eoretical model of behaviour change; explain why psychological advice to others​ about lifestyle changes should only be provided by health professionals
  • identify a positive change that you would like to make in personal habits or lifestyle (for example improved study commitments, increased exercise, healthier diet); outline a program for improvement using the five stages of the transtheoretical model of behaviour change
  • read the article Stage theories and behaviour change and summarise strengths and weaknesses of the transtheoretical model of behaviour change
  • research the work of Carol Dweck relating to motivation; determine whether it is related to resilience 
Example icon for advice for teachers 

Detailed example

Case study analysis of the development and management of specific phobia​


At this stage, students would have completed areas of the course including: the continuum of mental health; characteristics of mental health; the 4P factor model (predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating and protective factors); the BPS (biological, psychological and social factors); as well as overall cumulative risk. Students are presented with a case study of an individual with specific phobia (refer to the case study in the learning activities related to Vicky’s phobia of dandelions as a further example to the case of Don’s claustrophobia provided below) that they are required to analyse.

Science skills

Teachers should identify and inform students of the relevant key science skills embedded in the task.

Activity 1: Case study scenario

Students are provided with a case study of a person who has a specific phobia. For example:

"Donald (Don) is a 59-year-old male who works in a state government office as an accountant. He enjoys his work and the people he works with. He has worked for the government in this position, or similar positions, for the last 25 years. His salary is quite good and he has excellent benefits, however, recently he has been seriously considering retirement. In fact, he and his wife Barb, have been talking about going on a road trip in their campervan when he does. Don’s main reason for retiring, though, is that the whole accounting department has recently been consolidated from several different locations. This had been done to improve efficiency. For Don, the problem with this consolidation is that he has a significant fear of small, enclosed spaces such as elevators (claustrophobia). So, when his office first moved, Don tried to use the stairs to get to his office but he found this very difficult because of his arthritic left knee. The combination of his fear and his physical problem led to him beginning to dislike going to work. So much so that he would ask Barb to call in ‘sick’ for him, which she became really concerned about. Despite recognising that his fear is irrational and out of proportion to the actual dangers involved in elevator travel, Don is still unable to stop avoiding travelling on elevators. In fact, Don’s claustrophobia is something he has suffered from for a very long time. It seems his problems began when he was a young child and he was locked in his bedroom closet by his older brother. It was done as a prank, but Don became extremely fearful, his heart was racing and he felt out of breath. He had what he now recognises as being a panic attack. Despite pounding on the door and begging to be let out, his brother only released him an hour later. Ever since that event he remembers avoiding enclosed spaces of all types and even as a teenager he had to have a light on in his bedroom at night."

In small groups, students are provided a blank version of the 4P factor model and BPS table and asked to identify any contributing factors in relation to the development of the specific phobia in the case study.

​​ 4P factor modelThe Biopsychosocial (BPS) Approach
Biological factors Psychological factorsSocial factors
Predisposing risk ​factors      
Precipitating risk factors      
Perpetuating risk factors     
Protective factors   

Activity 2: Discussion questions

Contributing Factors

  • Determine where you think the individual in the case study sits on the mental health continuum. Justify your placement, based on your understanding of the distinction between stress, phobia and anxiety.
  • Choose one relevant biological contributing factor to the individual’s phobia and discuss its potential role in the development of their phobia.
  • Explain the role of classical conditioning in precipitating the individual’s phobia.
  • Discuss the role of operant conditioning in perpetuating the individual’s phobia.
  • Identify and explain any specific environmental triggers of the individual’s phobia.

Interventions and/or Management

  • Suggest a biological intervention and explain how it might benefit the individual.
  • Explain how CBT could be used as a psychological management intervention for the individual.
  • Using the language of classical conditioning, explain the process that would be involved in using systematic desensitisation as a psychological intervention for the individual.
  • Discuss the importance of involving the individual’s family/supporters as a part of their therapy.

Teaching notes

  • It is important that students gain practice at applying the 4P factor model and BPS to varying mental health case studies or scenarios. Initially, students may need guidance and could benefit from completing an initial analysis of a case study as a class or in small groups.