25 October 2019
A psychologist who wanted to do more for military personnel in arduous parts of the world has trained as a naval officer to earn the right to deploy.
Lieutenant Commander Juliet Battersby, originally from Khandallah in Wellington, has been a civilian psychologist with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) since 2012.
She took on 16 weeks of Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) officer training last year because she wanted to be a psychologist who could support NZDF personnel anywhere in the world.
“I wanted to be deployed,” she said. “I wanted to be ready to go wherever our people are – the Middle East, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands. It’s a goal I really wanted, as well as career development.”
She trained as a midshipman at Devonport Naval Base in Auckland during the second half of 2018. She said she didn’t dole out professional advice to her comrades, but at 36 was the oldest female and occasionally took on the role of “mum” when needed.
After four weeks of training she was able to go home at weekends.
“At the time, my daughter was four, turning five, and my son was two, turning three. We told them I was going to ‘Navy School’.”
She loved the training.
“Someone told me training is a great equaliser, and it is. There were some tough bits, like pushing a four-wheel drive truck up a hill. And there was a day when my husband’s and daughter’s birthday was on the same day, and I couldn’t be with them, and I knew that was going to be the hardest thing.
“My family understood, absolutely, and the training staff were hugely supportive, and that made things manageable.”
After graduating, and receiving an automatic promotion to Acting Lieutenant because of her qualifications, she went back to her original job as Head of Navy Psychology. She travels to RNZN, Royal New Zealand Air Force and New Zealand Army bases in New Zealand, but now also heads overseas on missions.
This year she has deployed to the Middle East twice. As a naval officer, she and her RNZN psychology team provide ongoing support to RNZN shore units and personnel on ships.
“A lot of what I do is support,” she said. “Missing family is a big part of what people struggle with when they’re away from home. People can also struggle with re-integrating, going from a deployment-based mindset back into normal life. And occasionally you deal with critical incidents.”
She undertakes research with RNZN recruits, looking at ways to build increased resilience in sailors.
“For a lot of our younger recruits, military training is the first time they have ever been challenged. It can be a really steep learning curve and it’s our role to support them to learn and adapt,” she said.
Lieutenant Commander Battersby studied for undergraduate and masters in psychology at Massey University in Palmerston North and Wellington after finishing at Samuel Marsden Collegiate School in Karori.
“For me it was a genuine curiosity about people,” she said. “The idea of being able to work with people to understand all their unique strengths, limitations, and experiences seemed like such a privilege, and it is.”