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Jo McGrath

2002-2004 / Diploma of Counselling (Henderson campus)
2012-2013 / Bachelor of Counselling bridging programme (Henderson campus)

I started my journey in the Diploma of Counselling in 2002 at the Bible College of New Zealand, while I was a full-time youth worker with Youth for Christ (South Auckland). Over the three years, we met weekly face to face for a full day of study (no COVID-19 then!) We used dial-up internet, received handouts, handed in printed assignments, and studied using books and journals. Joyce Carswell was our main lecturer, and she wanted us to be well equipped to work in a Christ-like way with our clients. We received a lovely balance of theology with counselling skills such as ARPI, PCT, and CBT, providing us with a wonderful foundation for our counselling practice.

Two other favourite papers of mine were Psalms with Marjorie Blaiklock, where we wrote a Psalm of Lament, and I realised how much the Lord had helped me through my life, and Spiritual Formation with Susannah Connelly, where we could be creative and do all sorts of arty stuff, allowing the Lord to minister to us during these classes.

In 2012 I returned to the now named Laidlaw College to do a bridging programme to the Counselling degree. As well as a name change, we were on broadband, had access to lots of resources online, attended block courses instead of weekly courses, did more self-directed learning, and submitted our assignments for marking online. How times had changed, and I remember feeling so proud of how far Laidlaw had advanced.

My graduation day with my degree after five years of study was one of the most precious days of my life. Walking with my classmates down the street with cap and gown, and entering the arena to a hearty haka, our speaker Ruth McConnell, and then walking across the stage with the biggest smile I think I have ever had, made for a day I will always remember with fondness and gratitude.

I came into the course with no prior knowledge of how to write academically. Secretly I was shaking in my boots as I had failed my School C twice, and missed my UE by five marks. I learnt how to study with each assignment I attempted. Myk Habets created a blue book about writing academically and how to reference, which I referred to all the time. The librarians helped me to understand catalogues and journals which was to be foundational to my academic study skills. I fell in love with reading journals, so much so that I often spent my lunchtime down in the library reading them. This helped develop a love for finding out about new things.

Ruth O’Connell taught us about research, and one of the things she said - which I held onto - was that all research needs to contribute to making life better. As a result, my research for my Masters was on a very personal topic, where I both shared my story and advocated for women who had been treated badly due to having Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Food Intolerances. They gained their voice as they spoke of how they wished they had been treated, and I was able to write a journal article encouraging counsellors on how to work better with clients presenting with these issues.

As well as the professional development, during this course I did a lot of personal development. The counselling training gave me words and strategies to position some of my past, and to set me up for a better future. As I struggled and wrestled with past hurts and experiences, the Lord began to help me move on from these, and step into what He had planned for me. The coping skills learnt helped me to have a happier and more contented life. The inside and outside me started to match up. That was life changing.

I have been able to work with people who were struggling in their lives, and have had the privilege of seeing many lives changed for a better future. My life motto is ‘Helping To Make Life Better,’ and I couldn't have done that without the counselling and theological training I received from Laidlaw.

I now have a private practice as a Counsellor and Supervisor, and have worked in agencies in East and South Auckland. I continued studying at the University of Auckland, and in 2018 gained my Master of Counselling with first class honours. Such a long way away from my School C. results! I can now share this journey of study struggles and perseverance with my students, as in 2019 I started lecturing at Manukau Institute of Technology in the School of Health and Counselling. I teach Counselling Theory and Practice and help students on their first practicum. I am also an Academic Team Lead Support where I help students who are struggling. It has been rewarding being able to invest back into the counselling profession and help new counselling students become safe and ethical in their practice.

I’m grateful that the Lord put people in my life who saw my potential way before I did, and helped me to become who He wanted me to be. I am also grateful for all the work the Lord has done in me over the years, and his love, faithfulness and guidance.

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