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Student story

Helen Gunn

20 July 2023

"I get to meet the most interesting and amazing people and I have the privilege of hearing their stories..."


Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Media and Communication

Master of Social Work (Applied)

Through her placement work in her Social Work master's degree, Helen has found her calling to support others towards stronger mental health and wellbeing.

"What I love about my placement is that I get to meet the most interesting and amazing people and I have the privilege of hearing their stories. People never cease to amaze me, they are adaptable and resilient and strong and I think a lot of what I do is just about recognising that and helping people to see that they do have so much knowledge and so many skills it's just about harnessing them."

Helen's placement involves several days a week working at a GP practice in Ferrymead under Pegasus Health, working with the staff and guiding patients through social service programmes.

"In a general practice you can work with people of all ages and backgrounds and they have really varied needs. A lot of the work I do is supporting people to access services such as counselling, home help, and group programmes or specialist services such as Aviva for domestic violence support or the Alcohol and Other Drug Central co-ordination service. I also do a bit of advocacy so I might attend Work and Income appointments with people, help them to navigate the service and to know what they are entitled to.

"It's really all about finding out what people would like the outcome of working with me to be then coming up with a plan so we can achieve those outcomes. I feel like the theory we study is really relevant and I've learnt skills that I use every day in my practice."

Choosing to study Social Work after her Arts degree was "kind of by chance", after a year of working and wanting to continue in studies similar to Psychology.

"While I was going through the UC website I just stumbled on Social Work and there just so happened to be doing a midyear intake. I thought "why not?" and I haven’t looked back," she says.

"I think my goals have changed so much just in the last year. I have always been passionate about mental health and wellbeing and that hasn't changed, but I think my opinion about the best way to promote mental health has developed. I really think there needs to be more and better access to mental health care at a primary level. So if I can work in a way which promotes the shift in mental health from acute treatment towards prevention and early intervention I would be really happy with that."

Helen also thoroughly enjoys her course as a chance to get to know other Social Work students in UC's community.

"The paper is focused on integrating theory and policy into practice and it runs beside our placement really well, always relating our practical work back to our theoretical understanding of social work. It's a good opportunity to catch up with others in the class and hear how they are getting on. Social work is so diverse it's great being able to hear what others have gotten the opportunity to experience on their placements."

She definitely advises future Social Work students to explore the variety of career options the subject can offer.

"Talk to people who work in the field and see if the reality of the work is something that appeals to you. UC has an amazing Social Work department, so make the most of their knowledge and see if the degree sounds like something you would be in to. I think you need to keep an open mind too, there are so many areas you can work in and there really is something for everyone."

Growing up at an isolated farm near Lake Taylor, Helen first chose UC to be close to family, and has come to enjoy the city life.

"I love Christchurch, it really is my home now. It's an exciting city to be in at the moment, seeing a city rise back up from a disaster like the earthquakes isn't something that everyone gets to witness and it’s been great to see positive things grow out of such a tragic event."

"When I started my bachelor's I spent my first year at Rochester and Rutherford Hall. That was a great experience, I'm still friends with the people I met there. It was so handy being on campus but the social side of living with a bunch of other students was great too. I think the culture here is good and very supportive and I feel like it sets you up to do well."

By far her favourite part of campus was joining the UC Rowing Club, which turned out to be an awesome unexpected hobby.

"I had never rowed before but that was no big deal – we had a group of novice women and we competed at the Uni Games Regatta in Twizel. It was a really cool experience and there were heaps of social events as well, I made friends with a great group of girls and we are still rowing now. We all decided to join Canterbury Rowing Club and continue on with the sport."

"So my advice would be to give something a go even if you’ve never done it before. You might find a whole new passion!"

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