Renae Beaumont: “There is no greater joy than giving the gift of friendship to kids.”

Dr. Renae Beaumont is an expert in improving the mental health and wellbeing of individuals who are on the autism spectrum. The Queenslander moved to New York three and a half years ago to work at the Weill Cornell Medicine/New York Presbyterian Hospital as Assistant Professor of Psychology in Clinical Psychiatry.

Secret Agent Society – a social-emotional skills training program – is the brainchild of Renae. With an aim to engage and empower children, the award-winning tool has a wide reach across youth, their families and mental health professionals in nine countries, and beyond. In late December 2018 when Hurricane Irma swept through the British Virgin Islands, Renae without second thought offered to assist the community through Virgin Unite and strengthen their rebuilding efforts by delivering a first-of-its-kind workshop on autism on the British Virgin Islands.

In the same year, Renae received the Advance Education Award in recognition of her work and dedication to improving the mental health and wellbeing of children, adolescents and adults.

Despite receiving multiple accolades and praise, Renae remains humble and continues to work on improving children’s well-being.

Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance

How long have you been in New York? What made you move to there?

I’ve been living in NYC for the past three and a half years. Weill Cornell Medicine/New York Presbyterian Hospital originally sponsored me to come over and train their staff in how to deliver my program (the Secret Agent Society) to children with Anxiety Disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder as part of a multi-site research trial. It was an offer too good to refuse!

What was your first impression?

I visited NYC several times before moving here, and it was always a dream to live here. I instantly fell in love with this city. The energy, the cultural diversity and passion of its people and the amazing variety of things to see and do! Sporting events, concerts, live theatre, bars, restaurants – NYC has the best to offer on so many fronts. I still pinch myself thinking how lucky I am to live here!

You created the award-winning Secret Agent Society; a breakthrough in autism therapy. What’s the story behind the computer game?

The computer game teaches kids how to recognise emotions in themselves and others, how to express their feelings in appropriate ways and build the social skills they need to make and keep friends and manage bullying. The player assumes the role of a Cadet training at the International Secret Agent Society headquarters. They navigate through a range of spy-themed games and activities as part of their Secret Agent training. The computer game is supplemented with child club meetings, parent training sessions and teacher tip sheets to help kids to put their social-emotional skills into action when needed at home and at school.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Early on in my career, a nine year-old boy who completed Secret Agent Society thanked me for helping him to make a real friend for the first time in his life. I remember thinking that for me, there is no greater joy than giving the gift of friendship to kids.

What has surprised you working in children’s mental health?

I learn more from the kids that I work with than they ever learn from me. I am in awe of their resilience. Even in the face of great tragedy or hardship, with the right skills and support, children have the potential to make lasting improvements in their mental health, with positive ripple effects for the rest of their lives.

If you were not a psychologist, what would you be?

I always dreamed of being a talk show host!

What are your favourite Aussie cafes/ restaurants in NY?

I live on the Upper East Side, so Hutch and Waldo is my go-to neighborhood cafe. Banter in West Village is also great for brunch!

What do you miss most about Australia?

Family, friends and being close to the beach. As a Queenslander, my ultimate summer days were spent on the beach at Noosa. New York winters have been a BIG adjustment!

Check out our interview with Renae from the 2018 Advance Awards to hear more about her story and the impact of her work.