A Port Stephens resident has received the Chancellor's Doctoral Research Medal after completing his Doctor of Philosophy in clinical psychology at the University of New England.
Tanilba Bay's Michael Walton, who hopes to work in the field of mental health services, said he was thrilled to be awarded the medal for his 'exceptional merit' and being 'at the forefront of one's field'.
"I wrote my thesis while looking out on the green spaces of historic Tanilba House and Big Swan Bay, for which a world heritage listing is currently being sought," Dr Walton said.
"Occasionally I would observe the antics of koalas mating, which provided an interesting take on my research into the sexual behaviour of humans."
Dr Walton's PhD involved a combination of professional study, three clinical placements, and a doctoral thesis. He averaged more than 90 per cent for his enrolled course units and received the highest possible evaluation rating for his placements.
His research topic was entitled "Investigating Features of Hypersexuality" and the "Sexhaviour Cycle of Hypersexuality" to inform clinical research, assessment, treatment and understanding.
"Hypersexuality describes a persistent pattern of failure to control frequent and intense sexual urges, resulting in repetitive sexual behaviour that causes some people significant distress or impairment," he said.
Dr Walton's research involved more than 1,800 heterosexual and LGBTIQ adult participants who were recruited internationally online. His research found sexual excitation/inhibition, impulsivity, anxiety, depression and associated personality features related to various presentations.
"Hypersexuality is clinically complex to understand and often presents as a heterogeneous psychological problem or symptom of a recognised condition, frequently relates to high sexual arousal and low mood, and is more problematic for men than women."
Although hypersexuality may exist as an addiction for a nucleus of cases, some participants self-reported they were "sex addicted" when their rates of sexual activity were comparable to the general population.
Dr Walton suggests further research is required to validate whether hypersexuality sometimes exists as a behavioural addiction, as is recognised for substance-related addictive disorders, such as alcohol.
To date, Dr Walton's PhD research has featured in eight articles published in the 'Archives of Sexual Behavior', a leading peer-reviewed journal in the field of sexual science.
Dr Walton recently completed his final clinical placement at Headspace in Western Sydney, an organisation which provides mental health services for people aged 12-25. "Young people are recognising that sometimes in life we need help to better understand ourselves in order to help resolve life's challenges. The value of early intervention is important."
As for his future career direction, Dr Walton said that it was likely to involve a combination of clinical practice and authorship. He intends to complete an 18-month internship program to become a registered clinical psychologist.
Dr Walton is also interested in the online delivery of mental health services, particularly given a lack of clinical services in communities such as Port Stephens.
"Access to timely, affordable and quality mental health care requires the ongoing commitment of state and federal governments and service delivery is a challenge for small communities such as Tanilba Bay."