Social Work: Emma Puddy

Emma Puddy has completed both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Social Work at the University of Melbourne.

Emma Puddy

Having always wanted to work in a ‘helping’ profession, Emma Puddy fully embraced learning from some of Australia’s best social workers at the University of Melbourne.

Why the University of Melbourne?

I had completed my Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne (2008) and was looking to go back and study my Masters.

I worked with Professor Ralph Hampson at the Starlight Children’s Foundation, and he was (obviously!) a huge advocate for the course at the University of Melbourne. I went to a couple of Open Days at other institutions, but Melbourne seemed like it had the breadth of coursework that I was most interested in.

What are your strongest memories from your Masters degree at the University of Melbourne?

I really loved coming back to do my Masters as I had a much greater appreciation for the expertise of the lecturers and the history and beauty of the grounds!

I felt incredibly lucky to be lectured by some of the best in the business, and from people so passionate about social work. Studying in a smaller cohort also allowed me to make some fantastic friends – some who I am still in contact with to this day.

I really appreciated the quality of the University of Melbourne’s contacts. My second placement at the Royal Children’s Hospital was the biggest highlight from my Masters experience, due to the exposure to interesting case work and learning from some exceptional social workers in different areas. I completed a split-placement – half on the ward and half with Gatehouse, the sexual assault unit at the hospital – and was able to really extend my skills and training during this time.

Tell us more about your journey to your current role and how your studies helped you prepare for it.

I am currently a student counsellor at the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School (MITS) in Richmond. MITS is a school for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from the Northern Territory and regional Victoria, who are wanting to complete their secondary schooling in Melbourne.

Students come to MITS in Year 7 and 8, before transitioning into various partner schools around Melbourne for Years 9 and beyond. I work with students from Year 8 onwards in our boarding houses – assisting with general counselling, preventative mental health education and linking to external allied health supports either in Melbourne or back home.

Melbourne University helped me to prepare for this role by giving me opportunities that exposed me to excellent counsellors and space to develop and hone my own counselling skills. I completed my second placement shadowing a fantastic counsellor at the Royal Children’s Hospital and learnt so much from my three months working alongside him.

The University also extended my knowledge working in a cross-cultural environment and allowed me to learn from excellent First Nations social workers. I was also able to develop an understanding of Narrative Therapy, which is still, to this day, a large part of my practice.

What are some career highlights so far?

After graduating in 2017, I accepted a role to move to the Northern Territory with the Starlight Children’s Foundation. In this role, I regularly jumped into small planes or troopies and visited remote communities all over the NT with visiting paediatricians.

I was in that role for three years, and it’s some of the most inspiring work I could hope to do. It exposed me to so many areas of Australia that I otherwise would never have been able to visit, and I feel so lucky to have experienced the people, places and cultures that I was able to in that time. Now, in my work as a counsellor for children mostly from remote Northern Territory, the fact that I have more often than not visited their home communities and met their families, is an immediate rapport-builder!

I hope to continue my work in this area. I’ve only recently returned to Melbourne after five years in the NT so am looking forward to reacquainting myself with the Melbourne mental health sector.

What does a normal day at work look like for you?

There’s really no such thing as a ‘normal’ day for me! With over 60 students to work with at any given time, I can be meeting with schools to create wellbeing support plans, doing risk assessments of individual students, organising external mental health support, conducting individual counselling sessions, running preventative mental health presentations, running small groups, or supporting teachers with in-class wellbeing work.

What advice do you have for current students?

Grab as many opportunities that come your way as you can and don’t be afraid to seek opportunities for yourself. Make the most of your placements – while my first placement wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing, and wasn’t really extending my learning, I pushed for other opportunities around the organisation and learnt from as many people as I could to get as much as I could out of the experience.

I also recommend tailoring your assessments to suit your interests. Reading about and researching areas that you want to work in down the track gives all the assessments greater meaning and purpose (and ultimately gave me more enjoyment along the way).