Rebecca Piam’s (pictured above, standing at far right) passion for helping people and supporting communities has always been at the core of her counselling career. These vital skills have become more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rebecca, who hails from the Western Highlands Province, is a Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Field Officer with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Mt. Hagen and recent alumna of the first Australia Awards Graduate Certificate in Counselling Short Course.

Rebecca works with communities, providing psychological support to people affected by conflicts or violence-related situations, as well as supporting frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to that, she was one of seven people who started PNG’s first National Counselling Helpline. While supporting communities, Rebecca decided to explore opportunities for further study.

The opportunity to apply for an Australia Awards Graduate Certificate in Counselling came at exactly the right time.

“Professional counselling is a very new discipline in PNG and not many people can differentiate between giving advice and counselling. I saw this [Short Course] as an opportunity to improve my counselling practice and understand how best to integrate new approaches in my work,” she says.

Rebecca was one of 25 Papua New Guineans from Government organisations, the private sector and NGOs who completed the Short Course at Griffith University in Queensland to develop their skills supporting mental health and wellbeing.

During their studies, all participants demonstrated significant improvements in terms of the quality of their counselling and engagement with clients.

Today, like many Australia Awards alumni participating in PNG’s COVID-19 response, Rebecca is using her new counselling skills to provide mental health preparedness and related training to health workers and other frontline workers.

Rebecca explains that several factors can cause stress to frontline workers

“The training helps them to recognise symptoms of stress in themselves, how to manage it and the support available to them.”

As part of the team at ICRC Rebecca has conducted training across three Highlands provinces, including co-facilitating training to more than 60 PNG Defence Force officers in Port Moresby.

“I am part of an organisation that allows me to put into practice my learnings from the counselling course, especially at the community level. I am now more confident in my work and learning something new every day.”

As Rebecca reflects on the positive feedback from those that participated in the trainings, she says that counselling is very important during this time.

“Counselling is crucial during this pandemic. The fear, worry, anxiety and uncertainty created by this situation can be overwhelming for some people, particularly frontline responders,” she says.

“Therefore, supporting them with counselling techniques and stress management can help them manage their stress and be in a better position to respond to the needs of the affected population.”