Case study

Helen's new passion after 20 years

Helen Simpkin was looking for a new challenge after working in finance for over 20 years. She found it in our BSc Counselling and Psychotherapy Principles and Practices. And our Foundation Year programme gave her a pathway onto the course.

A new level of study

Having left school at 16, Helen was apprehensive about starting at University as a mature student. She explains: “When I first walked into the University, I was a bit daunted, but I found the foundation course helped me to get to a place where I could study a degree. Having been out of education for so long and not having the A-levels I needed to do the degree course, the foundation course gave me confidence and skills which have been invaluable.

“The foundation year gave me time to really get to know the course I was looking to apply for and make sure it was the right one for me. Being older was a little bit scary, but I found the university to be so diverse and friendly as everyone is welcomed and supported. I have absolutely loved my experience of being at the University of Derby.”

Taught by industry professionals

Helen chose Derby as it was close to her home, but she also knew Counselling at Derby had a good reputation. She says: “I knew that Derby is one of the best for Counselling and I can honestly say from my experience over the past three years I can see why.

"The tutors are so knowledgeable and also have their own private practices, as well as having worked for bigger companies. The experience they have enabled them to give so much more depth to the course and you could tell when they told us information it came from a wealth of experience. They also were not afraid to be role models and show how they would counsel in different situations.

"I have now applied to do my Masters in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy because, although there are other courses within travelling distance, I know Derby has an amazing team there to support and teach me, passing on years of experience between them.

“The final year was my favourite year of the course. The modules I picked were really good for me, and the lecturers on all the modules I took made the modules interesting, challenging and beneficial. They gave so much of their own experience in the profession and made us think about where we go next. The lecturers were always happy to have a chat about which course to go onto and what kind of professions we could do.”

Gaining practical experience

Helen’s placements were impacted by Covid but this didn’t affect her experiences. “The lecturer who ran the Professional Development module helped us all to think about how we could gain clinical experience that would enhance our knowledge and benefit us despite the Covid restraints," she explains. "I worked with a family of young children and also with elderly residents in a care setting, allowing me to see how my skills could benefit all ages.

"The two roles I carried out were very different. The children I worked with ranged from 10 to 13 so had all different kinds of challenges. They would talk to me about school, friendships and what they were studying. I would chat to them about their day and ask questions about how it went. We would sit for a long time and instead of me telling them what I would do I listened and encouraged them to find their own solutions to any problems they had. I found helping them explore how to handle relationship issues was helping them in the long term.

"I also worked with the elderly and, during the pandemic, I may have been the only face they saw, so I had to reassure them as they had anxieties about going out. I listened to their concerns and showed empathy as they needed someone to listen and reassure them it was OK to feel anxious and help them to adjust to going out of their home again."

Developing personal skills

Helen gained many skills during the course. She says: “Self-reflection is a big one for me, and not always trying to fix everyone. This is something this course has made me realise I try to do naturally, so being able to know this and stop myself from trying to sort everyone out and make everyone happy has been a challenge. I have also found boundaries, knowing that I have to put them up at times and keep myself safe mentally from situations and experiences. Finally, the joy of studying and being able to read and reference others' work, not just books but journals and articles.”

Future plans

After her masters, Helen would love to stay on at the University as either a lecturer or in mentoring role. She says: “I have been told by fellow students I should consider student support. I have been a trainer within the financial industry and really enjoy teaching skills and knowledge to others.”

Helen Simpkin

Going to University has been the best decision for me and has changed me and my life forever. Derby is a brilliant university with so much to offer.

Helen Simpkin
BSc (Hons) Counselling and Psychotherapy Principles and Practices