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Xania Prentice

Level 6 Counselling Skills and Therapeutic Communication

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Xania Prentice

Xania studies Counselling Skills and Therapeutic Communication at Newcastle College University Centre. She Stepped Up to a degree after studying at Newcastle College. Find out what she has to say about her time learning with us.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your background, etc.?

I first studied courses at Newcastle College in 1996, when my eldest child was a baby (I have three children). I went on to work in several different nurseries and schools, including as a sports coach, so I’ve always worked with children and teenagers. When I returned to Newcastle College in 2018, I wanted a total change in my working life, which is why I started on Level 2 Counselling Skills.

Why did you choose to step up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

A major reason I chose to return to study was after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. It changed everything; I totally stopped, and I didn’t want to go back to a job I didn’t want to do. I knew I wanted to study something new, and Psychology as a field always fascinated me. Since the Level 2 Counselling course was only 3 months long, I thought I’d try it out. I enjoyed it, so progressed onto Level 3 and above. Studying at Newcastle College University Centre was much more suitable for me, since at my age, with my family, the prospect of committing to a 3-year degree at Northumbria or Sunderland was quite intimidating. At NCUC, I could commit to a single year of study, and choose to continue if I wanted, which was a much better fit for me. I was also really familiar with NCUC, so I wasn’t so nervous about starting to study at the University Centre.

What was it about this course that made you want to progress onto a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

I think I just found the course really intriguing! My Level 2 and Level 3 studies weren’t traditional psychology courses. As part of my cancer remission treatment, I had counselling, which piqued my interest more in psychology because it became even more fascinating the more content I studied. To me, this course wasn’t just about learning or qualifying in psychology – it was a real voyage of self-discovery, discovering how people work and how I could help them.

What benefits do you think there are in choosing to stay on to study at Newcastle College University Centre?

The support. I know other people who’ve been to university to study a similar course, and they are only sitting in lectures. Although any university course involves a lot of independent study, the support and encouragement I’ve received at NCUC from my tutors throughout my learning journey really boosted my confidence and helped me to fit my studies around myself and my family. As an older person coming into this field as a complete novice, learning as a beginner has meant I was able to bring all my life experience to this course. Any feelings of being daunted at first were quickly quashed by staff, who readily embraced all my experience as a benefit to my student experience.

What are the facilities like at the University Centre for your course and as a student?

I love the facilities, especially Parsons 10 and its drop-in sessions. I visit the HE Hub sometimes, and the Reprographics team are fantastic help. I feel quite confident, really! We’re based up at Blandford Square, in a building just for us, which was a good move since there were times that practising counselling on campus wasn’t ideal; having discussions in our own building is much more appropriate.

What do you enjoy the most about your degree?

Wow… well, it’s been a rollercoaster, really! I thought I was quite a self-aware person before I started but studying at Newcastle College University Centre hasn’t just given me useful qualification – it’s taught me more about myself. I knew I’d be well-suited to work as a counsellor, but after my diagnosis, my perspective changed since a counselling degree leaves no stone unturned and forces you to examine your own values and beliefs very closely. I’m now working as a counsellor, and sometimes I have to pinch myself that I’m a qualified counsellor, as it’s a goal I’ve had since I was a young woman and now I’ve finally achieved it!

What can you tell us about the L6 Counselling Skills and Therapeutic Communication degree?

My fascination with the Counselling Skills and Therapeutic Communication course really began with Level 4. I studied a module on therapeutic approaches which really captured my imagination. During Level 5, I studied a lot of trauma-informed modules – I could honestly do a whole degree on trauma theory, it breaks my heart but it’s so fascinating to study! I’ve learnt a lot about myself and the world we live in through the module on sexuality and gender, as well as the classes on relationships. For me, though, the most life-changing module was the classes touching on bereavement, grief and loss. The knowledge I learnt on the trauma module gave me knowledge about working with clients, but also answered many questions about my own life experiences. It helped me to know a lot about myself, and even if you don’t intend to study the course to become a counsellor, it’s still a very useful course for personal development.

Why did you choose this L6 degree course, despite no one having studied it at Newcastle College University Centre before yourself?

I’ve been called a trailblazer – I suppose I am in that sense! I think because I just stepped into Level 2 with a new way of living and a new perspective on life, I don’t look too far in the future, instead preferring to focus on the here and now. Admittedly there have been some hiccups along the way, but part of life is learning to face challenges together. There were times after qualifying for Level 5 that I considered going somewhere else, but I decided to stay at Newcastle College University Centre because I learnt so much here, including how much satisfaction I got from completing each level. I also like the idea that I’m part of the first cohort to complete this course, even during COVID, since fulfilling the 100-hour requirement for face-to-face placements with clients was arguably the hardest part of the course for me, since there were so many restrictions during COVID. Some students definitely struggled to find their placements for these reasons, so I’m glad I got mine sorted! In all, I don’t mind being almost guinea pigs for future cohorts, since everyone will benefit from the different ways we’ve approached completing our course these last few years.

What inspires you?

In total honesty, a friend I met through my cancer treatment. She inspires me every day, because we were both left like shadows of our former selves after our treatments, but she went on to set up a charity for other cancer patients while I began my Level 2 studies. Since then, she’s been re-diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, which she’s been living with for three years, and she’s actually just had her charity registered, so she’s been my inspiration! We’ve both had a second chance, and we’ve both been able to do what we really want rather than do what we thought we should have been doing. On another level, my mother never had any of her children attend university, so I think that inspired me quite a lot to go for what I want.

Tell us about how you have worked with industry whilst studying your degree (i.e. talks / live briefs / projects).

I haven’t been employed during the course, until about 4-5 months ago. I now work in a secondary school as a student counsellor, but I completed my hours in a high school during Level 5, and I continue to work as a volunteer there. I was qualified to work with an adult charity in counselling via face-to-face, Zoom, and telephone conversations, as well as with Children North East, which is another counselling charity which helps children aged 9 and upwards. During my first placement, there were no other counsellors, so I really got thrown in at the deep end! I learnt so much from communicating with the staff, safeguarding leads, and other professionals. Talking to the police on certain occasions, and with Children North East, really developed my confidence in my communication skills. I’m quite confident sitting in a meeting with head teachers and other school staff, and standing up for what the counselling process is in those settings where some people don’t understand the counselling process and the confidentiality involved. Adapting my approach to difference audiences and environments has been a real learning experience for me, in that regard.

How do you think learning from industry experienced tutors has benefitted you?

Even though I appear quite confident, I’ve always had self-doubt. Being supported in the college, having supervisions while still being on placements, has really boosted my self-confidence to a level that I’ve never had before. I used to think that I wasn’t really good enough, but now I definitely know that I am.

How would you describe the staff at the University Centre?

Lovely. All of them, including the Parsons 10 staff, have been fantastic, friendly, super helpful and happy. The tutors who are directly involved in the course support for anything you need, both in teaching hours and outside of it – even on weekends, it’s reassuring to know they’re all just a Teams message away…not that I’ve ever had to pester anyone on a weekend, mind!

Have you overcome any challenges either before or whilst studying your degree?

Absolutely! Whilst studying this course, I also have three children, aged 28, 16 and 11, so I’ve had to help them deal with their own challenges (namely GCSEs, SATs, and moving house). Like everybody, I’ve had lots of big challenges come up, where I’ve managed to focus on the course, set boundaries and never let anything distract me from studying, since I’m doing this for myself, and it’s very important to me.

What has been the highlight of your time studying at Newcastle College University Centre?

It’s quite hard to describe the highlight, really! Apart from being in lectures, we have quite a lot of debates, particularly in the trauma modules, where we had some deep, fascinating conversations that I really enjoyed. Also, the transition that happened on Level 5, to understand how my own adverse childhood experience helped shape me and give me strengths I can draw upon now. I’ve managed to draw everything around in a very positive way. I’ve realised my calling, since I can be genuinely empathetic with a lot of different clients at all ages. The clients that I’ve had have ranged from ages 9 to 79, so I’ve worked with a huge range of people, and I’m able to communicate really well with all of them.

In what ways do you think your degree at Newcastle College University Centre has prepared you for employment?

Very well, I’d say. For every module, we’ve had professional practice and employability training, and I think the placement I secured was obviously vital, since I think mixing academic and hands-on training is the best way to learn. Being able to process our studies and experiences at college, where two of the tutors are industry-experienced therapists themselves, meant we could discuss whatever we needed while also getting feedback and support, which really prepared me for the next steps. Starting out, going into my first placement, I was confident but a little bit shocked – there were definitely moments where I thought “Oh my God, am I actually doing counselling now?” As the process wore on, I realised how much it prepared me for the workplace since sometimes schools are on board, but they don’t understand the counselling process at all. Counselling is not meant for teachers, it’s not designed to explain away a student’s behaviours in the classroom; its purpose is to benefit the student’s own autonomy and confidentiality, while getting to the root of their underlying issues. I’ve gained the chance to speak up and advocate for their issues and concerns, so I’m able to be a professional and teach other professionals about exactly what counselling actually is, and how it’s helpful to students.

What are your plans after you graduate?

First of all, I’m going to do a charity skydive to release all the stress while raising money for my friend’s charity, since it should be registered when I graduate. I’m starting another job soon, so I won’t be doing a Masters degree; instead, I’m going to become accredited with BsCP. I’ve got 300 hours of training now, but accreditation needs over 450 hours of experience post-qualification, and then I can go on to specialise in therapeutic approaches like AnD and trauma. I might go on to do other courses, but I don’t think I want to study a Masters degree in Counselling now, since I feel I’m learning more about myself and my clients doing what I am now. More importantly, it feels good that I’m finally earning money now!

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about Steppin’ Up to a degree at Newcastle College University Centre?

Although I have no other degree experience to compare this to, I think a Counselling degree is unlike any other course you can study, both at Newcastle College University Centre and elsewhere. You need to be prepared to leave no stone unturned. You have to be really self-aware and mentally strong and grounded, and prepare to be very honest with yourself, and discover things about yourself, some of which can be quite difficult to accept. People in broader society want to avoid the conversations that we, on this course, are actively encouraged to hold; this is good training for your clients, with whom you have to be prepared to discuss anything. It’s very important that you have personal therapy as well, and you must be prepared to spend money on those things, since it’s all part and parcel of the learning experience. You can’t be a good counsellor if you aren’t practising what you preach to your clients. It’s been very challenging at times, both professionally and personally, but you have to go into this course with an open mind. As an adult, someone who hasn’t studied to degree level before, I’ve loved the studying and the independent learning experience, and I’ve loved tackling whatever tasks I’ve been given. That said, you’ll need really good time management so you know when to switch off the ‘counselling’ part of your brain. Speaking personally, I know I gained such an awareness of these issues that I sometimes found it hard to stop analysing everybody in my life, so you’ll need to learn how to switch that off as well. One of the biggest things is self-care in counselling, and not just a bath or a bottle of wine, but a proper kind of preparation and de-stressing. It changes your life, really!

Describe your student experience in three words.

Challenging. Fascinating. Inspiring.

What are your top tips for Steppin’ Up at Newcastle College?

Be prepared for the workload and the independent studying

Accept others’ life experiences and views

Be prepared for complete honesty and difficult conversations

Listen to the tutors’ tips early on, since they will come in useful further down the line

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from Learning Support

Look for placements early, and invest in personal counselling.