For Amy Duggan, the decision to study for her Master of Social Work grew from a need to relieve human suffering rather than simply watching it play out.
“I was working in a job where, almost daily, I was encountering individuals affected by homelessness, mental health issues, family violence or some form of substance use,” she says, “and I was tired of sitting back and watching what was happening around me, without knowing how to help. I wanted the opportunity to better understand these people and what might be going on for them at a deeper level – to find ways to help them.”
The first step towards gaining that better understanding was the decision to return to higher education, and that meant choosing a course that offered theoretical expertise and hands-on experience. In short, she needed a qualification that would allow her to make a difference as quickly as possible.
Having only lived in Perth a short time, however, she needed to do a little legwork first.
“I had to do a bit of online research into which university was going to suit my needs,” she says. “Because UWA’s Master of Social Work course is accredited by the Australian Association of Social Workers, I knew it would open a lot of doors for me going forward.”
But if her choice opened doors, what she found behind them was a huge surprise.
“I learned more about myself, in taking time to identify my own values and beliefs,” she says. “This built my empathic side, as I found I could understand others better the more I stopped to understand myself.
“I came in with all these strict ideas of what I wanted to do, which have since been completely flipped on their head – but in the best and most exciting way possible – and I am forever grateful to all the staff and my fellow students, for opening my eyes to what social work is all about.”
It was during the second of two work placements – intended to give students valuable real-world experience – that the biggest ‘flip’ occurred. Indeed, taking on a role with a behavioural-change program and working with the perpetrators of family and domestic violence would become a defining moment for her.
“I had always held a real passion to work with victims of crime and thought that's where I'd end up,” she explains, “but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed working with perpetrators of family and domestic violence, and by the ways I could work for victim-survivors without working directly with them.
“It saddens me when so many people are quick to pass judgement on the men I engage with, and so often question their capacity or desire to change. I think there are some general assumptions that these men are inherently bad or want to cause harm, when that often isn’t the case.”
Both her work placements allowed Amy to build on what she’d learned in the classroom. “One of the greatest surprises to me was how seamlessly I was able to adapt my coursework learnings into each role,” she says. “I could truly appreciate the relevance of all the content and just how much I’d learned over a short amount of time.” What’s more, her period with the domestic violence program was so successful that she was offered a job there. “It’s a challenging role, but also a really rewarding one.”
In the long term, then, returning to study and broadening her skill set has given Amy just what she was looking for: the opportunity to make a difference.
“What motivates me are the small but significant positive changes I see every day in these men, and who those changes ultimately benefit – none of which would be possible if people aren’t willing to afford such great opportunities to those who need them.
“I am genuinely humbled to be a part of this work and am thankful to the UWA field placement team for introducing me to something I knew so little about.”