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Student Q&A: Kate Johnson

Community Services Faculty Student - Counselling

Editor's note: Kate successfully completed her studies with Upskilled in December 2017. 

Kate Johnson is an Upskilled student currently studying* a qualification in Counselling. Here, she talks to Upskilled about her study and career journey and why community services is an excellent and fulfilling career path to join.

How has your Upskilled course been going?

Really well, I am still underway with the Counselling qualification. I am finding it really good. I like the self-paced learning format, and because I’ve been in the sector for a long time it’s good to re-learn some things as well. It’s like learning from a different perspective.

What’s your experience in in the community services sector?

I am a community development worker, I am the director of an autism community service called Spectrum Journeys. We do health promotion and education, as well as community projects.

How did you decide to move into the path of a community services career?

I originally studied legal practice, with a view to help people. However, I got stuck in private practice doing media and property support as a paralegal. I didn’t enjoy it, so I took that experience of legal practice, studied a Diploma of Youth Work, and combined both of those to be a legal advocate – supporting disadvantaged clients in court, and running case work.

From there, I got more into the straight community work side of things and when my son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum I decided to set up a not-for-profit organisation because there was not a lot of assistance at the time. Our not-for-profit identified the gaps and we used those skills to create a community service. This was all about 4 ½ years ago.

So, you were motivated by wanting to help people?

Yes, so the desire has always been to help people. And I have experienced both sides, from the one who was helping to the one needing help. I knew that there were quite a few service gaps and I knew that as an organisation, we had the keys to support people within those gaps. We effectively built a working team around those gaps and our organisation has expanded from there.

How has the community services industry changed in those 5 years?

There has been a lot more in the way of access to services, but there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, a politician recently came out in the media, talking about wanting kids with autism to be segregated; so we clearly still have a long way to go. There is still a lot of work to be done. Having said that, there are far more services available now than when my son was first diagnosed 6 years ago. It’s a much more even playing field. It’s not completely even, but it is much more even, just in the fact that our kids can now access support and services and have inclusion policies in schools.

So, you have been on both sides of the equation?

Yes, absolutely.

Do you feel positive about where the industry is going?

I think so. We are in the midst of the biggest change to disability services with the NDIS coming in. As we all navigate that, it gives kids more access to therapy and support, which are amazing tools that allow kids to change their lives. Therapy is incredibly expensive and a lot of people can’t afford access to that – so if the NDIS changes the game giving them access to what they need, rather than what they can afford, we are going to see a lot of lives changed.

We haven’t seen the NDIS roll out fully in our region yet but if it gives people a voice, and if it gives people options about the support that they get it’s going to be a great thing. At the moment, there are families that cannot afford support, because they fall outside of the traditional funding methods, so the NDIS could transform their lives.

Why did you decide to study Counselling online?

I do counselling on the side. Lots of people come to me and our community service Spectrum Journeys for support, in many cases crisis support, and I found that the skills that I had from the last decade or so of being in the community services sector were good, but for us to be able to offer a specialised parenting and autism support network, where we open it up to clients for counselling, I wanted that industry recognition, that the skills that I have are relevant, and able to be used.

So, at the start of the year I decided to do this counselling course online, I’ve got 4 children (plus I run a service) so I can’t sit in TAFE or uni during the week to do it. So, the flexibility of an online course was wonderful, because I knock over chunks of study at a time, late at night or on the weekends. My ultimate goal is to be able to support our service, our region and the parents who receive support from us when their child is diagnosed to be able to offer that quality counselling support that they need, because there are not many specialist autism counsellors around.

What are some traits that make a good counsellor?

  1. Integrity and authenticity: Because there so nothing worse than sitting there and feeling like you are being judged.
  2. Good communication skills and empathy: For example, in our community service, it’s important for us to really understand what it means to be an autism parent.

Is it difficult to juggle all your commitments?

Yes, it’s a challenge and I wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for the support of my husband. He might offer to take the kids to the park on the weekends while I am knocking out an assessment or even late at night (when you’d normally be having a chat about the day) we’d have a chat about the day but over a counselling assessment! Or we might read textbooks together and things like that.

For me, this course was a year of opportunity and sacrifice. When you get an opportunity to study, you have to throw yourself into it wholeheartedly. So, that’s what I have done. It’s not forever, so you get your systems in place and get your homework done, and do your assessments and do the study when you can fit it in and that’s the beauty of the online model. While you have deadlines, you still have the flexibility to work with the time you have to get the work done.

What are your short-term and long-term goals?

One of my short-term goals is to finish my counselling course and to be able to expand our service to offer parental autism counselling by the start of next year. My long-term goal is to replicate Spectrum Journeys Inc. which is our community service, and to have it running in multiple regions. We are in the outer east of Melbourne at present, near the Yarra Valley, and we want to expand to service other regions. Our service extends across Victoria and our resources are across Australia.

What do you do in your spare time?

We love to take the kids to the park, go out for brunch and get a bit of exercise!

What advice would you give other students?

I would say be prepared to have your time management systems really tight so that you can effectively manage your study. Understand that the course isn’t forever but the benefits will be long lasting if you apply yourself.

*This article was originally published in 2017. Kate has now completed her studies with Upskilled. 

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