ACAP graduate swaps banking for saving lives at 50

By Penny Burfitt Public Relations & Content Manager
12 years ago, Sandra Toovey swapped her corporate job for a counselling course at ACAP. Now she works on the front line of sexual assault treatment in NSW.

In the bustling heart of Sydney, amidst the urgent hum of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in the Inner-West, front line worker Sandra Toovey prepares for her day as the Acting Crisis Coordinator and Clinical Lead at RPA’s Sexual Assault Service.

A graduate of the Australian College of Applied Professions’ Graduate Diploma of Counselling, Sandra’s days are rarely uniform in her role as a frontline counsellor. She can be called to any number of sexual assault victims’ bedsides day or night, and provides ongoing counselling and support, all while wrangling a team of over 20 employees.

While she is now playing a pivotal role in the state’s forensic response to sexual assault, 12 years ago her life looked hugely different.

“I was 50 years old; I had got divorced, I was a single mother, and I was working in banking,” she said. “Then I basically got made redundant.”

Sandra said the sudden redundancy was a nudge from the universe to revisit an old passion – psychology and counselling. She had studied the fields years earlier, but her qualifications were out of currency.

“It was time to update my skills and ACAP stood out to me because of its relational approach. It wasn’t just about theory, it was about connecting with people,” she said.

“I was 50 and what I discovered is that I was so teachable.”

ACAP became Sandra’s academic haven. Her course included subjects like adult developmental psychology and attachment theory which she now uses daily.

She now specialises in complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“The College gave me the tools to sit with people, not just professionally, but humanly,” she explains.

“It was about being present and reflective, qualities that are indispensable in my line of work.”

"It was time to update my skills and ACAP stood out to me because of its relational approach. It wasn't just about theory, it was about connecting with people" - Sandra Toovey

Skills on the frontline

Today, Sandra often finds herself juggling multiple crises in a single day and drawing on her studied skills.

“Our work spans from immediate crisis response to long-term trauma recovery,” she explains.

“Every day is different, from counselling survivors to coordinating forensic responses.”

Her team’s role is critical in helping victims understand their experiences, and Sandra says their early intervention can dictate how someone will recover.

“We educate them about their reactions; what they’re feeling and what’s going on for them,” she said.

“If that is validated and commonised, then they will have a quicker recovery and the likelihood of complex trauma may not exist.”

Inspiring more women

At a recent ACAP Alumni Networking event Sandra presented her success story, and reflected on the life-changing leap she made in 2012.

She said she hoped she inspired attendees, particularly other women of a similar age, to consider taking a chance on their own “what if?”.

“If you have the skills, do not be afraid to jump,” she urged her audience.

“Feel the fear and jump. You can be multiple things in life; don’t let age or circumstances define your path.”

When asked what motivates her, Sandra didn’t hesitate.

“Social justice – it’s about making a meaningful impact,” she concludes.
“And ACAP gave me the foundation to do just that.”

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