Making a career change, because she cared
Ms Vanessa Samuel was a banker, homemaker and then a teacher – but she found her real calling as a counsellor, entering the field via James Cook University’s Master of Guidance and Counselling programme.
Ms Vanessa Samuel has worn many hats in her life: Banker, homemaker and mother, as well as educator. While working as a teacher, she realised that some children displayed hyperactive behaviour that required more support and attention than she could give.
“Some of my students struggled to remain focused on classroom tasks,” she recalled. “They also shared several challenges with relationships at home and in school. All these experiences fuelled my desire to learn more about how to support children in schools.”
Ms Samuel was then employed as a full-time teacher at an international school, and she needed a part-time course structure that suited her schedule. In 2012, she enrolled in the Master of Guidance and Counselling programme at the Singapore campus of James Cook University (JCU), from which she graduated in 2015.
The programme is recognised by both the Singapore Association for Counselling (SAC) and the Australian Counselling Association. JCU’S resident faculty is Associate Professor Frederick Low, who is also the current president of the SAC. As part of the course, students undergo 100 hours of a practicum placement, as well as 10 hours of clinical supervision and 20 hours of counselling-related activities such as practicum report writing.
Despite not having prior qualifications in counselling, Ms Samuel was able to gain entry to the course because of her work experience. Those with relevant degrees and work experience are eligible for up to four subjects’ worth of advanced standing.
RETURNING TO SCHOOL LATE
Ms Samuel candidly admitted that another factor in her decision to study at JCU – besides the course curriculum – was the extensive support offered to mature learners like herself: “I was upgrading my skills after a gap of more than 25 years, and the level of technology support that JCU provided was remarkable. My IT skills grew in leaps and bounds!”
Ms Samuel also appreciated the lecturers who demonstrated a deep dedication to the students. For example, Dr Robyn Anderson’s passion for early learning and child development spurred Ms Samuel and her classmates to stay sharp even after long days at work. Another lecturer, Dr Timothy Hsi, was instrumental in shaping her personal and professional growth, while Dr Margaret Carter modelled genuine support to help late bloomers like herself.
“Once, I arranged to meet Dr Carter at JCU’s campus after work, and she waited for me until 8.30pm. Despite having to catch a flight later that night, she spent time with me to discuss my assignment until 10.30pm. Just knowing that there are educators like her made all the classroom sessions worthwhile,” said Ms Samuel.
AN OUTSTANDING KNOWLEDGE BASE IN COUNSELLING
According to Ms Samuel, JCU’s well-planned curriculum gave her the knowledge necessary to practise her skills in a multicultural and diverse environment, a major benefit in her current position as a school counsellor at XCL World Academy.
“The Master’s programme was so well-structured that it prepared us for clinical presentations, public speaking and running in-house sessions. The curriculum also provided all the essential journal research papers and textbooks,” she explained. “Having access to this curriculum was incredible – we can base our interventions on research evidence and understand how to support children from different nationalities.”
JCU’s online library was also an asset, as it offered students access to the latest peer-reviewed articles and research journals. Said Ms Samuel: “The video library, too, had phenomenal counselling videos that I loved to watch periodically – they gave me a practical understanding of how to conduct a counselling session.”
Ms Samuel spent her 100 hours of practicum at the Australian International School and Saint Joseph’s Institution. Both her placements were attained via JCU, though students had to apply and be interviewed and selected based on their own merits.
“JCU gave me an outstanding knowledge base in counselling and psychology, and the degree helped me meet the educational requirements to be a registered trained counsellor,” she said. “The Master of Guidance and Counselling programme is truly an exceptional course. Not only will it change your personal and professional life, but it will also add meaning and purpose to your journey.”