Building confidence one step at a time

Working as an administrator for a specialist mental health service reignited Miriama Okesene’s interest in psychology and after some initial nervousness about returning to study, she enrolled in a Diploma of Psychology with Open Polytechnic to ‘test the waters’.

Proving to be a stepping-stone, and with her confidence bolstered, she continued her study journey and has since graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science (Psychology). Now, postgraduate plans are underway with the ultimate goal to become a clinical psychologist.

Pathway to psychology

Miriama always had a personal interest in mental health and psychology, but it wasn’t until she started a job working in the field she began to think it was something she could do as a career.

“After high school, I completed an administrative course which has been the cornerstone of my working career for the past two decades."

“In 2010 I landed the role of team administrator for a specialist mental health service for Auckland District Health Board, where I am still employed today."

“I was always interested in psychology in terms of my own path and trying to figure out how and why I do some things. Being surrounded by highly skilled and experienced clinicians in my role really reignited my interest in psychology."

“It opened me up to other people’s experience – which made me curious about how people think, what influences these thoughts and what can be changed – all of those interlinked concepts just made the prospect of studying psychology really interesting for me.”

Building confidence

After looking into a few options, she took the plunge and enrolled in a Diploma of Psychology by distance learning with the Open Polytechnic.

“At the time, the idea of returning to study after a long hiatus was a bit daunting. I wasn’t sure if I could do it and while I was focussed on what I wanted to achieve, I was worried I was going to disappoint myself in that pursuit."

“Choosing to study with Open Polytechnic was an opportunity to ‘dip my toes in the water’, and study at my own pace without disrupting my lifestyle. It gave me the option to be able to keep working in a full-time capacity, while also being able to study something I was interested in.”

Miriama graduated with the diploma in 2016 and from there she enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Science (Psychology).

“Studying the diploma allowed me to get my footing right in psychology itself. It was a stepping-stone, as once I started it and got used to doing the work and realising I could do it; I knew that my next step would be the degree. So, when I finished the diploma, I went straight into the degree.”

Right environment

Miriama says she feels very blessed to have had access to the work she did and the support of her colleagues while studying.

“My team has always been very supportive in my pursuit of knowledge. I provide administrative support for a team of psychiatrists and psychologists and nurse specialists. The majority of my role is peripheral to the clinical work but connected to it, so I had some valuable insights into people’s life experiences."

“We are a specialist service, and I was part of a team with a wealth of knowledge in terms of mental health overall, and the services available to people in the local area."

“Throughout my time studying, everybody in the team have been open to discussions and recommended different courses, resources, and material to help with my assignments. I truly appreciated this, and it helped keep me motivated and focused.”

Flexibility and support

Miriama says balancing life, work, study and all that comes with ‘adulting’ can be challenging.

“I did feel the pressure of having to juggle things – as work can be very demanding. I think the hardest thing I struggled with was time management."

“However, the flexibility of studying online meant I could fit my study in and around work. So, at the end of the workday I would stay back to study. I like to keep study and work separate from my home environment, as much as possible, as it makes it easier to go home and relax.”

Miriama says ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and this also applies to distance learning.

“As well as the support of my family and colleagues, I always knew if I needed to, I could reach out to the academic staff at Open Polytechnic, and it was always welcomed. They were readily available and willing to help and so enthusiastic about our educational journey as students. The librarians were always very helpful too, when it came to accessing resources online.”

Future career

Miriama says with the foundation now laid in terms of her knowledge, she is looking to take the next step into post-graduate study.

“In terms of the knowledge I have gained, I feel like I am ready to progress that and be able to delve into it a little more deeply; so I’m looking at post-graduate study with the ultimate goal of clinical psychology."

“One of the areas I’m really interested in is child and adolescence psychology. I feel interventions that are implemented in those times can have a massive impact on how people experience their lives later on. It is an area where you can intervene – without being an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff – so to speak."

“Given my interest and experience, I eventually see myself working in the area of mental health.”

Study Advice

On reflection Miriama says there are a few things she learned and wanted to share with those thinking about studying.

“In terms of studying online in any field – if you are feeling anxious or unsure – but you have an interest in an area, I would say just give it a go, as you just never know. One course in – you might decide to do something else. But it’s given you more information about yourself and whether you want to do it."

“For those interested in studying psychology, I would also say be prepared to be open about yourself. Some things can be quite confronting because you learn a lot about yourself. So be open to meeting your authentic self – it’s a good thing.”

Overall she says “aim high, give it a try and you may just be surprised by what you could achieve. Be curious, find your passion, stay focused and remember to take a breather every now and then.”

Choosing to study with Open Polytechnic was an opportunity to ‘dip my toes in the water’, and study at my own pace without disrupting my lifestyle. It gave me the option to be able to keep working in a full-time capacity, while also being able to study something I was interested in.