Opening up

Working as a TAFE counsellor is a great privilege, as people frequently entrust you with both their dreams and fears

Every TAFE NSW institute and campus provides its students with access to a counsellor. This person's job is to provide professional help with concerns affecting enrolment, study, careers and particular requirements, such as disability access or advice on work issues.

My role as a TAFE NSW counsellor – based at the Illawarra Institute - is pretty diverse. The counselling service is not only open to those who are already studying at TAFE, but also to those who are considering enrolling. This can include people such as final-year school students, or those wanting to learn new skills, change jobs or re-enter the workforce after having children or recovering from an illness. These types of prospective students often benefit from advice on how to go about taking the next step in their careers or achieving a particular goal, such as climbing the ladder in their current role.

A counsellor can assist them to find out how study can further their aims.

Students who are already studying at TAFE can make an appointment to talk about their career plan and study goals. Sometimes it's about how to manage their lives alongside their TAFE studies. This could include help with anything that might happen in daily life or about difficult personal issues.

Often we're able to help students who are struggling to deal with some curve ball that life has thrown them. Perhaps they need some guidance on how to stay focused on their studies while still carrying out their family or work responsibilities.

Working as a TAFE counsellor is a great privilege, as people frequently entrust you with both their dreams and fears. And they ask you to share the part of their journey that they just happen to be on at that moment in time.

Recently when giving a talk to a group of students, I found myself suddenly rethinking my approach to counselling.

I was discussing the range of support services available at TAFE, and I mentioned the kinds of issues students are often experiencing when they come to see me as a counsellor. This included stress, relationship or financial problems, issues in the workplace or trying to manage depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. Then someone in the group suddenly asked: "Why do you have to be so negative?"

I took a moment. OK where do I go with this? It made me realise that yes, often students do seek counselling when things aren't going well for them in some part of their lives. But they also see me when they're flourishing and want some advice on how to go even further.

Many TAFE counsellors use positive psychology concepts and strategies that can help improve wellbeing. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, says by discovering our strengths and finding ways to use them more frequently, we can achieve increased positive emotion and meaning in our lives. This results in more accomplishments and better relationships.

So, anyone keen to sign up?

TAFE Counsellors are here to support students in a range of ways. It might be during a time when life isn't going according to plan or it might be to improve wellbeing both in and out of TAFE.

For more information about Martin Seligman and flourishing, visit