Tuija Turunen comes originally from Oulu. In her youth, she never had to ponder her career choice. Since upper secondary school she knew she would become a psychologist. And that is just what she did. During her career, Turunen has gained a sound base of experience from working with people having a crisis as well as from administrative duties as a developer of mental health care services. At present, she is the chief psychologist at Terveystalo, being in charge of their psychologist and psychotherapy services, available to customers of all ages and across the country.

In her adolescence, both home and school supported Turunen’s dreams of a career in the field of psychology. Her school’s psychology teacher and also her mother, who worked as a student counsellor, encouraged her to acquire further information. Her mother suggested she attend an evening lecture at the local psychologists association. The speaker there was Professor Risto Fried from the Department of Psychology at the University of Jyväskylä, who was currently involved in a pioneering study on sleep. Fried made an impression on the young upper secondary school student both with his expertise and his charismatic character.

“The University of Jyväskylä became my absolute first choice as a study place! I applied and was admitted directly after the upper secondary school.”

Tuija Turunen’s study years in Jyväskylä were full of activity. Her topmost memories include the high quality of teaching and the great atmosphere at the department. “Absolutely top characters everyone,” Turunen says. Professors and teachers were easy to approach, as were the fellow students, who eventually formed a significant collegial network.

“We got this strong sense that we students were important. People believed in us and we were heard and as representatives of our subject association we were listened to and were able to influence in shared matters, such as paid internships, for example.”

Just before graduating, Turunen moved to Oulu and started a family. However, she returned to Jyväskylä upon Professor Lea Pulkkinen’s request. Pulkkinen wanted Tuija to join a group doing graduate work on the hospital experiences of mothers having their first child. It was an opportunity she could not refuse.

Turunen graduated from JYU with a master’s in psychology amid the deepest economic depression in 1992. There were simply no vacancies, not even substitutions for psychology teachers, so Tuija stayed home and took care of her first child. Now Tuija sees the start with temporary jobs and substituting as an important stage of her career, since she gained diverse work experience from basic health care as well as from specialist nursing. Tuija moved with her family to Seinäjoki and worked for the local health care district as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist in the psychiatric unit for children and youth. There she specialised in crisis and trauma psychotherapy.

“I like challenges and along with the everyday work, I’ve always been involved in various developmental and administrative tasks and educating myself further. Next, I will be qualified as an EMDR instructor.” (EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing)

In the first decade of the 21st century, Finland was shocked with several traumatic events. First came the tsunami in South-East Asia, then the school shootings in Jokela and Kauhajoki. In these school shootings, altogether 20 people were killed. Turunen participated in the after-care work for both the tsunami and the Jokela incident. After this, she joined a research team of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (STM) to investigate access to support and care for young people exposed to traumatic shooting incidents. The team also investigated how people cope with a psychological trauma and what factors are involved therein.

Turunen had just started her first actual research leave, when a new shooting incident occurred in Kauhajoki. Turunen moved to coordinate and provide psychosocial after-care. She worked as a specialist psychologist in the Kauhajoki project for three years. The THL investigation was extended to look at how young people who were exposed to the school shooting in Kauhajoki were coping. Tuija completed her doctoral dissertation alongside her clinical work. The dissertation addressed the abovementioned issues and was approved at the University of Tampere in 2014.

“After the school shootings, educational needs related to this topic increased in Finland as well as internationally. The findings of our research team were published in several international journals and I was travelling to conferences and training sessions, giving lectures and training people across the country as well as abroad.”

Because her work was beginning to involve so much travel, Turunen decided to move to the Helsinki region. She was employed by the medical centre Diacor as chief psychologist, and her responsibilities included the development and coordination of high-quality psychological and psychotherapy services for all age groups. Her work tasks changed from clinical to administrative ones.

When Terveystalo and Diacor merged, Turunen continued in the same post, though in a nationwide role. She aims at making mental health care an everyday matter by increasing people’s awareness of mental health work. She also emphasises quick access to services, yet without compromising their high quality.

“I believe in science and research evidence, and we carefully monitor the effectiveness of our services.”

At this stage of her career, Turunen finds it important to contribute to building trust among clients, so that they feel the experts are highly educated health care professionals. “I wish people would be less hesitant to seek help,” she says. “For mental load and problems, the same rule applies as for other ailments: the earlier you seek care, the better.”

Terveystalo has already gathered strong evidence that the low-threshold digital services for occupational health care customers for supporting their mental health skills as well as timely treatment with brief psychotherapy sessions are effective in both humane and economic terms. Turunen is coming to Jyväskylä to present the follow-up results on the effectiveness of brief psychotherapy sessions at the Psychotherapy Research Days in JYU.

“I feel that by supporting the mental health of working-age adults, we are at the same time carrying out preventive mental health work with a view of the next generation. So my present work is actually a continuation of all my earlier professional duties.”

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