She is driven by a strong mission to steer youth offenders back on the right path

A psychology degree and a master’s in counselling at James Cook University equipped senior probation officer Dhaarsheini Thevarasoo with skills needed to help troubled young people

Ms Dhaarsheini believes her relationships with the youth under her supervision should be built on trust, care and mutual respect. PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

When Ms Dhaarsheini Thevarasoo was in secondary school, she witnessed the positive impact a school counsellor had on students who were facing any issues related to their emotional, behavioural, or mental well-being.

"This piqued my interest in working with youth who face various challenges. I wanted to be part of the system of support to guide and empower them so that they can rise above their situations and integrate better in the community," says the 30-year-old mother of one.

So committed was Ms Dhaarsheini to better understand the minds of troubled youth that she went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at James Cook University (JCU) in 2011, followed by a part-time Master of Guidance and Counselling in 2016. That same year, she landed her dream job as a probation officer with the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Probation and Community Rehabilitation Service.

Probation is a community-based sentencing option for suitable offenders who may otherwise be institutionalised in a youth rehabilitation centre or imprisoned. These youth will have to remain under the supervision of a probation officer for a period between six months to three years.

Beyond supervising youth offenders so they comply with their probation orders, Ms Dhaarsheini's responsibilities also include guiding them to make positive changes. This requires her to foster relationships with them based on trust, care and mutual respect.

Ms Dhaarsheini is more than up to the task because of the "hands-on" training she received in her JCU programmes, which enhanced her listening and observation skills.

"This helps me to perform better when engaging these youth and their families. I also developed an increased sense of empathy, which enabled me to delve deep into underlying issues faced by these youth. Such insights in turn help me work through their different circumstances and play a greater role in their rehabilitation," she adds.

Undergoing deep training

Ms Dhaarsheini, who is married with a two-month-old baby, says she picked JCU for her psychology studies due to its global ranking and international recognition as an academic institute.

Thanks to JCU's trimester system, Ms Dhaarsheini was able to complete her respective qualifications at a faster rate. PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

JCU's undergraduate psychology programmes are also accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council (APAC). In Singapore, JCU is the first organisation with EduTrust Star, which signals a high level of quality assurance.

Moreover, JCU also offers the Inter-Campus Mobility Program, which gave Ms Dhaarsheini the flexibility to consider if she wanted to do part of her programme in the university's campus in Queensland, Australia.

Another major deciding factor was JCU's trimester system. With this system in place, Ms Dhaarsheini was able to complete her respective qualifications at a faster rate.

Along the way, Ms Dhaarsheini also met many inspiring lecturers who were role models. One of them is psychotherapist and counselling centre director Hema Gurnani who taught her two modules during her Master's at JCU.

Says Ms Dhaarsheini: "Ms Hema brought to the lectures a multitude of actual cases and scenarios. This allowed us to learn from real-life experiences and be prepared to handle similar situations. Not only was Ms Hema inspirational, she was encouraging and passionate in training us to be counsellors."

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