From Salford to Fiji: Graduate shares inspiring placement to help young people with their mental health
Counselling and psychotherapy student Farjana is celebrating her graduation this week, so we caught up with her to talk about her experiences at Salford, including one placement which saw her travel almost 10,000 miles away from her home in Oldham to help young people in Fiji with their mental health.
Farjana has always been passionate about wanting to study counselling and psychotherapy, and says it was the course itself that initially drew her to the University of Salford. She explains: “The University of Salford was one of few places that that offered the opportunity to become a fully qualified counsellor at the end of the three-year course, which was something I really wanted to achieve.
“I feel that I have changed in many ways since my time at Salford. I have been able to build my independence as well as my confidence within myself. I have also developed more resilience from studying during Covid-19 and dealing with the aftermath of it.”
As part of her studies, Farjana undertook a month-long placement in Fiji, a country in the South Pacific which is made up of more than 300 islands.
“One of my friends who I met on my course told me about Fiji and how it could be an opportunity to further build my skills as a counsellor. It was exciting and something different, something that someone of my background doesn’t usually get to do! I decided there and then that I’d do it. I also found out later that the university would support me financially with this trip which was so helpful.
“When I arrived, we had a week of training where we learnt about the mental health crisis in Fiji and all about Fijian culture. Then we moved to a rural village where we also got to provide mental health workshops to young Fijians aged from 15-30 years old.
“In Fiji, mental health still has a lot of stigma attached to it, so it is very hard for people there to talk about it or to receive support. This means that the suicide rates in Fiji are considered among the highest in the world.
“As a group of counsellors, we found engaging the young people was really challenging! They had very rigid views of mental health at first. However, after two weeks of working with them on different activities, the turnaround was so amazing. We spoke to them about safe spaces, how to use coping mechanisms (I led a breathing workshop), and about different support organisations that were available to them.”
As well as making a difference to the young people she met, the trip helped Farjana develop her skills as a counsellor.
“This trip was so important to me personally, but it also gave me insight on how mental health is seen in different cultures. It reinforced for me the importance of confidentiality in counselling as well as having patience – both these qualities were so necessary for the young people to feel that they could engage with us. In a country like Fiji where stigma is a big issue, confidentiality and trust was so important to establish.
This trip was equally important for me to develop other areas such as my confidence and independence. I myself struggle with anxiety, and this really put me out of my comfort zone, however despite this I was able to adapt to a culture and environment which is just so different to my lifestyle here in the UK.
“I am currently working as a graduate counsellor for Health Assured, however my long-term goals are to have a private counselling practice of my own where I focus support towards South Asian women.”