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From Trauma to Chaplain - a student’s story of perseverance and self-discovery during challenging times.

Wednesday 27th May 2020

Life does not always turn out the way we thought it might.  We only have to take a look at how the current COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly altered our world.  

Yet the crises that face us don’t have to be the whole story.  In fact they may be the beginning of a brand new one.  

Here’s how one of Morling’s most recent graduates responded during some challenging times in her life.

Bek, what awards did you study at Morling College?

I had the privilege of studying counselling and chaplaincy at Morling College over the past four years, receiving a Grad Dip in Counselling and the Master of Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care. Both courses were professionally developed and outcome-focused with all theory having real-life practical applications.

You faced a few challenges during your time studying.  Can you share some of that with us and how you found support?

I suffered a stroke during a brain aneurysm operation in 2012, followed by a 40-day coma. Following this I embarked on a huge journey, eventually choosing to study at Morling College.

"I found that studying at Morling was an incredible gift, both academically and in my trauma recovery." 

I found that I needed extra support regarding research suggestions, essay writing and skill development.  The extended academic support staff were able to help with all of those needs. I was also granted extra support during exam periods, for example, being allowed to sit exams during the day and with extra time allowances, when they were scheduled to occur in the evenings.  

The teaching staff were highly skilled at guiding me and journeying with me. At times I was able to check with staff if I was on track in my understanding and they helped to point me in the right directions for further support. When I switched from studying counseling to chaplaincy, the chaplaincy staff helped me to readjust to what was expected from the different field of study.  

"Self-care was integral in this journey and will continue to be for the rest of my life."

I had to adapt and found alternate ways to process what I was learning.  For example, I organised study groups with classmates so that I could have a space with fewer numbers to slow down and process further what I was learning.  I pursued meeting with a mentor regularly, even on top of the supervision and support I was receiving at Morling.  I found that personally using mind maps was a helpful processing tool.  

Other more personal methods of self care such as exercise, checking in with my body and poetry became invaluable in looking after myself during this time. These also aided me to further process what I was learning and also became a tool in relating to others.  

"My classmates, who are now life-long friends, the wider Morling College staff, and my family and friends helped me to persevere until the very end."

What did you learn about yourself during your time at Morling?

I learnt that I am compassionate, patient and a deep listener, but needed to become more discerning. The counselling skills I learnt as well as the practicum experience at both Baptist Care and the Sydney Adventist Hospital (SAN) helped me develop in these areas. 

I also learnt that bringing my full self both to class and practicum were valuable.  For example, I had an experience in class where I shared some poetry which, on reflection, helped to summarise the learning and bring the class closer together. During my practicum experience my lecturer valued the self care that I was practicing for myself, encouraging me to explore the use of poetry and body awareness within my encounters with others. This became an integrative process where I learned to use my whole self within relationship . 

You have just recently graduated!  What are you up to now?

I was very fortunate to gain a job in Community Relations (Wellbeing) at The Anglican School Googong at the end of my course. Working back in schools was an incredible opportunity as I previously worked in schools across Australia, but now with the new skills that I had developed in the courses at Morling College. The role provides pastoral and counselling support for staff, students and families of the school and I am also part of the Chapel team that hosts three Chapel services each week. I am also a Defence Support Mentor for 60 students from families who serve in our Defence Force. I draw on all my past and present skills, knowledge and experience to serve and journey with this unique community at our school.  What an absolute privilege!

Written by Rebekah Donders

Rebekah Donders works in Community Relations (Wellbeing) at The Anglican School Googong and in her role she provides pastoral and counselling support for staff, students and families of the school. She is also a Defence Support Mentor for 60 students from families who serve in our Defence Force. She studied the Grad Diploma in Counselling and the Master of Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care at Morling College.

Rebekah Donders's Blog