The career-change social worker assisting local youth

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Mental Health Studies Student Experience

After decades of dreaming about pursuing her dream job, Tammy finally took action. Here’s the story of how she transitioned from owning a shop to advocating for young people in need

For many years my husband and I owned retail stores. However, possibly because I went through some adverse situations earlier in life, I’d always dreamt about becoming some sort of counsellor. Long story short, after my husband and I sold our last shop, I secured an administration role at the Local Health District and enrolled in Bachelor of Social Work. I graduated and eventually obtained a job working in child and adolescent mental health.

A strong start

I was very aware I had minimal clinical experience working in the health sector. And while my social work degree had covered the basics of child and adolescent mental health, I felt I needed much more in-depth training. That’s how I came to be enrolled in a HETI Higher Education's Graduate Certificate in Applied Mental Health Studies course (Child and Youth specialisation) at the start of 2020.

I’ve only completed the recovery-orientated-practice unit, so it’s still early days. Even so, I’ve been prompted to recall a variety of things I’d learned at uni but subsequently forgot, and have been exposed to lots of new information. There’s no shortage of readings and other learning resources when you’re doing a HETI Higher Education course!

Thanks to what I’ve learnt, I’ve become more aware of remaining focused on the client’s goals and using recovery-orientated language. Those things might sound basic. Nonetheless, it’s important to be reminded of their importance; to make sure you’re going into every session thinking, ‘It’s about the client’s goals, not my own.’

I also feel more confident now when talking to young people and liaising with their carers. While there’s theory involved, most of the course material has a practical focus. After developing new knowledge, I usually apply this into practice on the frontline within a matter of days.

Helping make a dream a reality

I have a significant student loan debt as a result of my previous uni degrees and a family to support. I couldn’t have done the HETI Higher Education course if I’d had to pay for it all myself. Fortunately, I was eligible for the CAMHS – Children and Adolescents Mental Health Services Scholarship - that covers 75 per cent of the fees.

I’d never applied for a scholarship before, but I found the process straightforward. My manager supported the application saying I would benefit from doing the course. I submitted a statement that detailed my midlife career change and desire to learn more about mental health. A few weeks after applying, I received a letter saying I’d been awarded the CAMHS scholarship.

The staff at HETI Higher Education have been delightful. I was deployed down to the South Coast to help with bushfire relief earlier in the year, which affected my ability to keep up with my studies. My lecturer was supportive and even granted me an extension on an assignment.

The future looks promising

It’s not easy making a major career change later in life. But I’m loving having the opportunity to advocate for those in need and help young people in their recovery. I have plenty of life experience to draw on, but you can never have too much knowledge. I’m looking forward to learning much more about young people’s mental health while finishing the remaining units in my Graduate Certificate.

Once that’s done, I’ll probably go on to do the Diploma.