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Refugee-Related Work for Hawke’s Bay Trained Counsellor

July 28, 2010

EIT Hawke’s Bay graduate Valerie Eden finds great satisfaction in a job that makes a difference – working with people who have experienced torture and trauma in their homeland before seeking refugee status.

The former Central Hawke’s Bay College and Taradale High School student is team leader for Youth and Family services at QPASTT (Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma).

The politically neutral, non-denominational and not-for-profit community organisation is part of a nationwide network of specialist rehabilitation agencies responding to the needs of refugees who have been tortured or otherwise traumatised before arriving in Australia.

QPASTT offers counselling, advocacy, group work, psycho-education information sessions, recreational programmes and natural therapies to people of all ages from a refugee background.  These direct services are coupled with referral, training and education roles aimed at developing and strengthening the resources of various communities and service providers.

A graduate of EIT’s Bachelor of Applied Social Sciences, Valerie heads a team of eight – mix of clinicians, bicultural workers and youth workers.  She also has her own clinical caseload and is part of QPASTT’s management team.

All this is a far cry from work she took on after leaving school in customer services, call centres and managerial positions in Wellington and Hawke’s Bay.   With a long-held interest in, passion for and love of helping people, Valerie decided to finally fulfil a lifelong goal to gain a degree in the social services sector.

“I know the positive difference that counselling has made in my own life,” she says.  “Enrolling in the degree programme and attending lectures for the first time was like ‘coming home’.

“It was an enriching, rewarding, fulfilling and humbling experience, and I can’t speak highly enough of the lecturers at EIT – they were approachable, knowledgeable, experienced and generous with their time.”
In an isolated role when she started her counselling career, Valerie nonetheless felt well-equipped to practise as a counsellor.

“I learned quickly that what I had been taught at EIT was highly transferrable, relevant, useful and practical.  I felt well-prepared, capable and competent.

“One of the things I appreciated most about EIT is the focus on supervision and the role it plays in developing your skills and knowledge….it has helped instil in me the value and necessity of reflective practice, and the importance of lifelong learning.”

Valerie feels small class numbers contribute to the success of the degree programme, encouraging participation, sharing and learning from fellow students and allowing “space” for discussion and debate.
Even before graduating in 2007, she had been offered a job as sole-charge guidance counsellor at Tararua College in Pahiatua, where she worked for two years.   Many students she counselled were learning to deal with trauma and grief, and Valerie says that provided the foundation for the work she’s now doing in Australia.

“As one of my EIT lecturers used to say, ‘it’s all grist for the mill’.  How right she was.”

In part, the trans-Tasman move was triggered by disenchantment with the New Zealand education system’s decision to exclude guidance counsellors who are not teacher-trained from working in schools – unless they are willing to complete a teaching degree.

“I believe this decision is short-sighted and dissuades some extremely skilled and effective counsellors from working in an environment where they can really make a difference to the lives of young people.”
According to Valerie, Australia offers a plethora of opportunities for someone with her qualification and counselling experience.