BSc Psychology & CounsellingColette Hutchison

Colette is a graduate from the BSc Psychology & Counselling and the MSc Counselling & Psychotherapy at the University of Strathclyde

What first drew you to the BSc Psychology & Counselling?

My interest in psychology started when I was 20 years old as, having become a mother at 18 years old, I was unsure where my future was headed. I recognised that I had an interest and curiosity in human behaviour and societal structures, so I enrolled in the SWAP Access to Social Sciences course in the Cumbernauld campus of New College Lanarkshire in 2007. This was initially with the intention of gaining a better understanding of myself, my young son, and our environment. It was important to me to work against the negative stereotypes of the single teenage mother, and to put my efforts into proving I could be a good mother, with a promising future.

Psychology and Philosophy were the subjects I found myself most attuned to within the social sciences, as I found that I had a natural empathy and curiosity for understanding other people’s experiences and perspectives. I achieved the highest possible grade within the SWAP course, then returned to achieve an A grade in the HNC Social Science course shortly after.

I worked within a research facility for the University of Manchester for several years, providing health, safety, and wellbeing support for PhD students, researchers, and staff. This rewarding role enhanced my interpersonal skills and led me to consider returning to my own further education. Having relocated back to Glasgow with my two sons in 2019, I applied to the University of Strathclyde’s BSc Psychology & Counselling degree course. I was drawn to this particular course on the basis that it was the only joint honours programme in Scotland which is recognised by the British Psychological Society (BPS) and allowed me to gain my COSCA listening skills certification simultaneously.

Tell us about the format of the programme. What did you work on week-to-week?

The programme provided a great combination between traditional psychology modules, research methods, counselling theory, and practical counselling skills. Each week would be a mix between lectures for modules such as social psychology, tutorials for research methods using software designed to analyse statistical data, smaller class lectures for counselling theory and counselling skills practice.

I particularly enjoyed the psychology modules of Psychopathology, taught by Susan Rasmussen, and Psychobiology, taught by Kellyanne Findlay. These topics had broadened my understanding of how both biological and environmental factors influence human behaviour. I also found that the practical counselling skills classes, taught by Steve Kelly and Malcolm McMillan, have had an undeniable impact on both my personal and professional life. My increased self-awareness, ability to set and maintain boundaries, and active listening skills have been some of the most valuable assets gained from the course.

The programme has a strong emphasis on practical counselling skills. Tell us about opportunities you had to strengthen these skills.

The practical counselling skills element of the programme was well implemented and centred around the person-centred principles of congruence, empathy, and unconditional positive regard. This began with learning how to engage in self-awareness, active listening, ethical principles such as confidentiality, and with progressive practice within peer triad group work.

Triad practice involved three students working together and taking turns being a speaker, listener, and observer. Although this was initially daunting, effective listening became easier as we gained confidence in ourselves with insightful feedback from our peers and tutors. With this practice and support, I felt prepared for strengthening my listening skills within my fourth-year placement at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

How did the course improve your knowledge of the core domains of psychology?

The course provided a good range of psychology modules which allowed me to gain in depth knowledge of psychological topics, an understanding of how psychological research is conducted, and how research evidence is reported and applied. The balance between psychology and counselling modules and content exceeded my expectations in terms of developing my knowledge and applying my understanding of psychology to counselling. I found that these complemented each other well as a joint honours degree.

What was the teaching like?

The teaching within the BSc Psychology & Counselling degree programme was varied in terms of teaching styles, which gave me an opportunity to be adaptive within each setting. I found that my own engagement with the lecturers was met with respectful consideration in every interaction.

I am particularly grateful for the support I received from my counselling lecturers, Steve Kelly and Malcolm McMillan. Both of these tutors were open and encouraging of my ideas for designing an original research project for my undergraduate dissertation, both were supportive of my progression to the MSc Counselling & Psychotherapy course, and both have been integral in my development of this for my PhD research proposal. The unfailing encouragement of my undergraduate and postgraduate tutors has had a significant impact on my self-belief in terms of my academic achievement and future ambitions.

You have just completed a Masters. How do you think the BSc prepared you for your success?

The ability to consolidate learning and apply psychological concepts within areas which were relevant to counselling skills was beneficial to improving my understanding ahead of the MSc in Counselling & Psychotherapy. Examples of this cross-module significance would be the understanding of attachment theory in developmental psychology and how these influence relationship patterns in adulthood; or in learning how memory functions within cognitive psychology and using this knowledge to understand how recollections may be impacted within a counselling setting. I also found that the integration of the COSCA Counselling Skills certification within the counselling theory module was incredibly helpful in terms of providing me with an extensive theoretical foundation for the MSc degree course.

Thanks to the support of my BSc course tutors Steve Kelly and Malcolm McMillan, and my MSc tutor Susan Stephen, I am currently working on developing a research proposal, which builds upon my undergraduate dissertation research, in order to apply for funding for my PhD in Counselling. I was fortunate enough to have had valuable guidance and encouragement from each of these tutors which has given me the confidence to recognise my ambitions as an academic researcher and theorist. I will also be continuing to gain experience as a person-centred counsellor, working towards my professional accreditation with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), of which I am now a member.

What advice would you give to someone considering applying to the BSc Psychology & Counselling?

I would advise anyone who is considering applying to the BSc Psychology & Counselling course to do so with an open mind and a willingness to engage in the learning. There will be some modules that you may enjoy more than others, however this process will provide you with the opportunity to recognise your own strengths and weaknesses. There are many opportunities for personal and professional growth within this course, the teaching staff are approachable, and they want you to succeed, so don’t be reluctant to ask questions or ask for support if you need it. I would also advise to make use of the library to follow any areas of curiosity you may have within these domains. Fresh thinking and ideas have potential to open up ambitions that you never knew you had. Be bold, ask for help, and persevere.