Born in Zimbabwe, Rachel Kapnias is an Honours international student from South Africa completing a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) with Griffith University. In her own words, she recounts why she decided to become a clinical psychologist with a research interest.

A butterfly swimmer at heart, competing all the way to a sporting boarding high school, Rachel suffered a succession of shoulder and back injuries which forced her to stop swimming competitively, change schools and see her former classmates progress to the South African Olympic trials.

“I had dedicated a large part of my life to swimming and had planned to continue competitive swimming into university; however, all those plans came crashing down. I experienced a crisis of self-identity and ended up being in a dark place mentally and emotionally. As a result, I went to see a psychologist,” she opens.

“Therapy has changed my life for the better. It was a hard period of adjustment and whilst I was supported, I noticed how many of my peers were battling serious mental health issues without family support, having their problems negated or stigmatised when they spoke up – particularly in the African cultures.”

“My recovery was not straight forward and involved a lot of frustration in terms of finding the right therapist and therapeutic approach; and even then, my recovery was challenging and exhausting. I eventually achieved a much better mental state, developing strategies and tools to use. I finally started to enjoy things in life, involving myself in new activities, developing new goals, and interacting with people more,” she adds.

It was during these trialling times that Rachel’s interest in psychology deepened. Competitive swimming no longer an option, Rachel had found her new calling: she decided to seek a career as a psychologist.

“The move to studying overseas meant becoming independent and developing further self-resilience,” she says.  

“I liked the style and standard of education offered in Australia, particularly in the field of Psychology, along with the inclusivity of cultures within the country and that a student visa allowed me some part-time work to help fund my education.”

“I chose to study Psychology at Griffith for many reasons: mainly their high score on student satisfaction and psychology ranking. The Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) did not only have several practical courses, but also had a scientific approach to psychology and had multiple statistical courses within the program which is a valuable skill satisfying my interest in numbers.”

When asked about her student experience, Rachel says she enjoys studying at the Mount Gravatt campus as she finds it quieter and more peaceful due to it being one of the smaller campuses Griffith has to offer.

“An advantage of the Mount Gravatt campus is that it typically is not too busy, and it is relatively easy to find a space in the library in comparison to some of the busier campuses. My favourite place to go on campus is Café M-28. It is the best place to take a break with friends, enjoy some good food or grab a coffee, and watch some of the wildlife around campus. 

“I made many of my friends through group projects, group discussions in class and being a part of committees. Committees and clubs are amazing because it is a great way to meet people with similar interests as yourself and you get to do it while doing something fun – university is not just about classes and grades.”

A former Peer Mentor and committee member of the Griffith Psychological Society during her second year, Rachel praises Griffith for making opportunities available to students to set them apart from others when they apply for jobs.

“I highly recommend applying to join Griffith Honours College. It is competitive to get in; however, the opportunities that become available are invaluable. I was able to join Griffith Honours College at the beginning of the year and I have already had some amazing experiences and developed many new skills, such as attending a workshop on social enterprises and reflective writing.”

Rachel recently completed her mission as a Campus Director for Griffith’s first Millennium Fellowship. A semester long student-lead leadership development program presented by the United Nations Academic Impact and Millennium Campus Network that focuses on social impact and sustainability advancing the Sustainable Development Goals.

“I never thought I would have been able to meet the demands of such opportunities when I first started uni. However, because there is so much on offer at Griffith, it simply takes a bit of courage to apply and put yourself out there. The outcomes in skills, personal and professional development and networking are invaluable to your future.”

If you, like Rachel, have a passion for helping people improve their mental health and are interested in building a career in psychology or research, Griffith has a range of degree options. Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology is recognised as one of the leading departments of psychology in Australia.

If this article is causing you distress, please contact LifeLine on 13 11 44, or visit the LifeLine website.