Bachelor of Social Services (Specialty)

This degree will give you the necessary skills to be a capable and confident social services professional working in New Zealand. We offer two specialties - Counselling or Health and Wellbeing Practice. You’ll graduate with a high-level of self-awareness, a thorough understanding of Te Tiriti o Waitangi principles, and the communication skills to engage and support a diverse range of people.

About the programme 

Want to help people and their whānau improve their quality of life? 

Our industry-relevant programme will prepare you to enter the social service sector as a counsellor or to offer holistic services in the health and wellbeing sector such as mental health support. 

You'll learn how to empower clients to overcome social and personal disadvantages, achieve their aspirations and realise their individual and community potential. And you’ll develop knowledge and awareness of the cultural diversity of Aotearoa, so you’re prepared to work with clients in a culturally competent way that upholds the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.    

At the end of your first year, you'll choose your specialty - Counselling, or Health and Wellbeing Practice - and then complete placements during your second and third year to build your industry experience and contacts.

Graduating with a high-level of self-awareness and the communication skills to engage a diverse range of people, you’ll be able to provide professional practice within the community, demonstrate social responsibility and will meet the standards needed to be eligible for membership with the Professional Association for your chosen specialty.  

Want your existing skills recognised?

Recognition of Prior Learning

If you have extensive knowledge and skills due to practical experience in the social service or related fields, please ask us about our Recognition of Prior Learning process (RPL). You may have already gained credits towards this qualification. 

Find out more here > 

Once you've read this info, if you have further questions or want to chat about this option, please email

Work-based learning

If you have work experience and skills in this area, you may be able to complete an independent learning pathway to achieve this qualification in a shorter timeframe. 

We currently offer a 10 month full-time / 18-20-month part-time, work-based learning option through our assessment of prior learning centre, Capable NZ. 

This option is available for the Health and Wellbeing Practice specialty. You cannot study the Counselling specialty through this method.

Find out more > 

Choosing a specialty

You can choose to study one of the following specialties within this programme and would graduate with that specialty attached to the qualification name e.g. Bachelor of Social Services (Counselling):  

  • Counselling
  • Health and Wellbeing Practice. 

You'll choose your specialty at the end of the first year.

Entry into your chosen speciality is not guaranteed and is dependent on a number of factors including your suitability for the speciality, your fitness to practice and making sure it aligns with the career you're keen to pursue. 

You'll have the chance to chat about this more with speciality lecturers during year one of the programme. 


Career opportunities include:

  • Community counselling agencies
  • School counselling services
  • Non-Government Organisations
  • Tertiary settings. 

If you want to develop the professional skills required to work as a qualified counsellor, choose this specialty.   

You’ll explore different cultural values and an understanding of how to work ethically (informed by the NZAC Code of Ethics), develop a deep understanding of your own values and beliefs, and gain knowledge of the Person-Centred approach to counselling. You’ll also explore additional theoretical models such as Acceptance Commitment Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Solution Focused Brief Therapy.  

You’ll gain experience working alongside clients in our on campus, student-run, community counselling service – the Kōwhai Centre. During this placement, you’ll be supported by our lecturing staff, your individual supervisor, and the Kōwhai Centre Manager so you can begin to practice your approach in a safe and supported way. 

By the end of your final year, you’ll have experience of working in external placement settings and be developing your own model of practice. You’ll be familiar with bi-cultural ways of working and be a culturally-responsive practitioner.  

In addition, you'll gain knowledge of the relevant legislation that relates to your practice (e.g. Privacy Act and Child Youth and Family Act, Family Proceedings Act (1980), and Domestic Violence Act). 

You'll graduate with a Bachelor of Social Services (Counselling).

Health and Wellbeing Practice

Career opportunities include:

  • Mental Health Assistant
  • Support Work
  • Health Education and Promotion
  • Community Development Work
  • Non-Government Organisations
  • Mental Health/Disability Advocation.

Organisations are increasingly offering strength-based services to their clients across both the mental health and disability fields. In addition, there has been a growth of generalist support roles in the health and wellbeing areas.

This specialty will ensure you develop a broad scope of practice in line with this contemporary approach to social service support provision, positioning you well to enter the workforce. It’s underpinned by mental health and disability theories and models, which includes exploration of community-based approaches. 

You’ll learn how to use local and national networks, resources and organisations to provide referral pathways and will gain knowledge of the relevant legislation to work with people within health and wellbeing practice (e.g. Privacy Act, Health and Disability Act, Human Rights Act, Mental Health Act, and Children’s Act).    

You'll graduate with a Bachelor of Social Services (Health and Wellbeing Practice).


During your first year, you will study a range of courses that will give you the foundation knowledge and skills you need across our two specialty areas. At the end of this first year, you’ll choose your specialty. 

You'll take your foundational learning from the first year and re-focus this into your area of specialty – deepening your knowledge as you go. This means you can gain confidence in the theory before putting it into practice in the workplace. 

During your second and third year, you'll do placements where you’ll gain industry training in a supervised setting. This will not only enable you to gain valuable practical experience but will prepare you for what to expect when you enter the workforce. Plus, you will build a network of contacts - great for future employment options!

Year one courses (all Level 5)
Course name Description Credits

Personal and Academic Effectiveness

Provides you with academic, reflective and self-management skills needed for working as an effective professional in social services. 


Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Ethics and Law 

Explore the relationship between Te Tiriti o Waitangi and international, customary and New Zealand law and ethics, through a lens of social justice. 


Applied Communication 1 

Develop skills that enable you to communicate in effective, safe and professional ways within collaborative relationships in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand. 



Theories of Human Behaviour 


Be introduced to theories of social psychology and human development, in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand. 


Careers, Specialties and Pathways


Gain knowledge about the changing world of work and career options relevant to social services. Explore your own career resources and aspirations and make informed decisions and plans for your career journey.   





Explore the notion of social construction of self and the concepts of social justice and social change and how this impacts on relating to others. 



Year two courses (all Level 6) 
Course name Description Credits

Applied Communication 2


Integrate group work theory and practice and demonstrate the knowledge and skills required to facilitate groups based on the presenting needs of the group.




Research for Social Services 


Develop an informed understanding of research paradigms and methodologies, and the current uses and practices of research within your chosen specialty area of social services.  



Theory for Practice A (Counselling) or (Health and Wellbeing Practice)


Gain the knowledge and skills required to articulate a theoretical value base for your chosen specialty area, and select and apply models, tools and skills suitable for work in this area in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand. 



Integrated Practice A (Counselling) or (Health and Wellbeing Practice)


Develop the skills, knowledge and experience to become a reflective practitioner who is able to work in a way that is values based, safe, informed and intentional in providing support in your chosen specialty context. 



Safe and Ethical Practitioner 


Become a safe practitioner who understands and recognises abuse, and is able to make sound ethical decisions for those at risk. 




Gain the knowledge and skills necessary for working with Māori in social service, counselling, career practice, disability support and mental health support contexts.


Addictions, Substance Use and Co-existing Problems

Explore an overview of substance use ‘addictions’ and co-existing problems and develop useful and culturally appropriate responses for helping people address these problems.   



Year three courses (all Level 7) 
Course name Description Credits

Applied Social Issues and Social Policy


Critically examine how issues are addressed through social policy and social service provision in a New Zealand context. 



Practitioner Inquiry 

Undertake a systematic review of relevant research material and literature in order to answer a question which has direct relevance to practice in your chosen specialty. 



Theory for Practice B (Counselling) or (Health and Wellbeing Practice)


Further develop your understandings of the underpinning theories, research and models of practice relevant to health and wellbeing practice, career practice and counselling. Build on the skills and strategies which inform your practice and further develop a framework which supports safe professional practice. 



Integrated Practice B (Counselling) or (Health and Wellbeing Practice)

Engage in further supervised practice with clients within community placements, and participate in individual, small group and peer supervision of your integrated practice. Demonstrate your application of theory into practice and your ability to meet the membership requirements of relevant professional bodies. 



Communicating with Families/Whānau and Communities


Become acquainted with theoretical approaches to working with families including Family Development Theory, Narrative Therapy and Systems Theory. The influence of family in relation to clients in the practice domains of social service, counselling and career practice will be explored through experiential and reflective learning. 



Socially Responsible Leadership 


Develop and consolidate skills, knowledge and strategies that will enable team, community development and leadership in social service contexts.




Further study options

Increase your career prospects with postgraduate study at Waikato, Massey or Auckland universities.

We are part of Te Pūkenga

When you apply to study with Otago Polytechnic, you will be enrolled with Te Pūkenga, the new national network of vocational and applied education in Aotearoa New Zealand. You will learn in the same way, in the same place, and with the same people, and you will graduate with a Te Pūkenga qualification.


While every effort is made to ensure that this sheet is accurate, Otago Polytechnic reserves the right to amend, alter or withdraw any of the contained information. The fees shown in this document are indicative only. Both domestic and international fees are subject to change and are dependent on the development and implementation of Government policies. Please note that additional fees may from time to time be required for external examination, NZQA fees and/or additional material fees.