This is my story of how I found my passion – counselling and mental health. Did I know when I graduated high school what I wanted to be? No, I definitely did not. However every step of the way I made decisions that felt right for me. I followed what I valued, believed in and inspired me which led me to where I am today. I am doing what I love to do.
In high school, I had a teacher who really inspired me to want to make a difference in the world. He believed in social justice and did a lot of work on the downtown eastside. I wasn’t sure what career I wanted, but I knew I wanted to do something that mattered and made a difference in people’s lives.
During high school, I had a traumatic experience happen where I was held up at gunpoint at a video store I worked as a part-time job. The combination of this traumatic experience and my passion where I could make a difference in peoples’ lives led me to criminology. I wanted to make the world a safer place. After high school, I went to a local college and started taking criminology courses. I really enjoyed it and continued my degree down that path. In my first year, I wrote a criminology paper and I asked my old high school teacher if he had any good books he would recommend to help with the paper. He suggested I read “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Gabor Mate. I absolutely adored this book and Gabor Mate. I knew I was on the right path.
In my second year, I came across another teacher who inspired me. I took “Introduction to Criminal Justice” and “Youth and Crime” with her. One of our field trips to was the Youth Prison because she sat on the board and did some work for them. During the tour, the prison said they took on volunteers so I put my name down. I then started volunteering at the prison once a week where I would hang out with the youth. I knew it would be out of my comfort zone because if you know me I am always paranoid and anxious. However, I knew it would be a great experience for me and that I would learn a lot. It was also something I could do to give back to the community which was something important to me. Volunteering at the prison wasn’t easy at first because A) I was out of my comfort zone; B) the youth weren’t super warm to begin with. Over time, the youth did warm up to me because I think they realized I was coming in on my own time not getting paid and I was consistently coming in each week. This was a great eye-opening experience for me. I have lived a very privileged life. I had a family who loves and supports me. I went to good schools, played on sport teams, went on vacations etc. I realized these youth did not have the same economic, familial, and social opportunities that I had been given in life. If I was born into the same circumstances as them, I would be there or maybe even worst.
While I volunteered at the youth prison, I realized criminology might not be the right fit for what I wanted to do. I really liked forming relationships and understanding people. So when I transferred into my third year at university, I switched my major to psychology and my minor as criminology. In my fourth year, I registered for a philosophical psychology class. You should know I am really bad at philosophy, it is so much harder than it looks! Anyways I registered in this particular course because it fit best into my schedule. This psychology class was very unusual and not like most psychology classes at the university I attended. Instead of it being a 300 person class where the professor has no idea who you are and you have teacher assistant’s who mark all of your work that you never meet, I was in a class with 15 students and the professor. The students weren’t just undergraduate students like me, the majority of the class (so 10 students) were in the master’s or doctorate degrees. I didn’t realize this until my first day of class. I remember feeling so inferior and dumb compared to the other students. This was something I hadn’t experienced before. All throughout my education before this I had done very well and never felt this way. I thought about dropping the course. However, the professor was really nice and he reassured us we wouldn’t be marked on the same level. Even though I felt very inadequate and uncomfortable, I thought this might be a great opportunity for me to learn. I stuck it out and I learned so much in this class and from the other students. The feeling of being inferior didn’t go away, I won’t lie. However, I realize now that was all me and in my head. The other students were very encouraging and inspiring. I really wanted to do a master’s now. But there was still a part of me that felt inferior and that I may never be able to because of how competitive it is.
I graduated with my Bachelor’s in psychology and criminology. I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I applied for jobs and didn’t have any luck. I mostly didn’t have enough experience, or it would be I didn’t have enough of “paid experience.” In my opinion, I think volunteer experience over two years shows how committed and dedicated you are. But that’s just my opinion. I felt very lost. I spent all this time and energy on my degree and now I couldn’t get a job. My 18 years of life, I was a student and now I didn’t have that a part of my identity anymore. It was very confusing. In the back of my mind, I knew I still wanted to do my master’s. There were still a lot of things I wasn’t sure of though. If I couldn’t get a job with my bachelor’s, how can I expect to get a job with my master’s? It’s really expensive, how will I afford it? Am I even good enough to get in?
I graduated in June and in November, I went to visit a psychic who I waited months to get an appointment with. I had never been to a psychic before so I had no idea what to expect. I was a little doubtful and apprehensive, but I decided to go with an open mind. I won’t say too much about, but she was right on the money about me. She picked up on the fact that I was nervous about my future and confused. She said I was at a crossroads, I had an A and a B path. My B path was still a very good path, but I wouldn’t go where I wanted to go. This was my path with criminology, I believe. My A path consisted of using all my potential and gifts, a career in psychology. She said I would be able to carry people’s burdens. She asked me what was holding me back from applying to do a Master’s and I told her. She said I would only be hurting myself and she suggested in April I would get good news. I applied to my Master’s the following month of this appointment and in April I got the news that I was accepted into my Master’s of Counselling Psychology program.
Again I would be stepping out of my comfort zone, starting a program I didn’t know too much about, going to a school where I knew no one, and being pushed to academic and emotional limits I never knew. As part of my degree, I needed to a clinical counselling practicum. I really wanted to work with children, youth, and their families. I applied to ten different places and didn’t get any responses. I felt very anxious I would not find a placement. One day I saw a posting on our school’s facebook page saying there were positions in an adult substance use program. Before this, I had never really saw myself doing addictions’ counselling. I had my prejudgement about addiction that’s for sure. I had also heard from previous teachers throughout my education that addiction counselling was the hardest of all counselling because a person really has to want to change for therapy to work. “Once an addict, always an addict,” right? I knew nothing about addiction, except for the little bits I gathered throughout my undergraduate degree. I applied for the position because I thought it would be a great challenge for me as I had no experience with addiction before. I got the practicum placement and I would be a clinical intern in the Substance Use Program. As part of the reading list, I have finished my practicum and I still feel there is so much to learn about addiction and people’s relationship to substances! I learned so much and I am sure I will always be learning. That’s something I have learned throughout my life’s experiences is that you are never an expert, there is always more to learn.
I got the practicum placement and I would be a clinical intern in the Substance Use Program. As part of the reading list, I needed to read “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” by Dr. Gabor Mate. I thought it was so ironic how I read this book in the first semester at college and been inspired by it. Looking back on it now, I believe it was a sign from the universe reassuring me about my path. Now here I am in my master’s degree starting my practicum working with people who wanted my help and actually making a difference in people’s lives and the community. I feel so privileged to have walked alongside my clients’ on their therapeutic journey to better their lives. I have learned one size does not fit all. We all have our own unique experiences and we ultimately our the experts in our own lives. We know what works and is best for ourselves.
On the first day of orientation, we were told this program would change us. It would force us to look inward, to examine and understand our greatest fears, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Looking back it was an incredible distance I travelled along this journey. I do believe my counselling degree has changed me and I believe these changes have been for the better. I am more aware of myself, my triggers, and what I need to do in order to cope with life’s stressors. I am human, I sometimes forget and return to old habits. But I now have this knowledge and skills in my toolbox that I did not have before. I would say I have become more honest and open especially about how I am feeling. I am still a very private person and I believe I always will be. But I am now able to readily express myself in ways that I was not able to do before with those who are closest to me. I have also become more aware of the world around me and what others may or may not be experiencing. I realize my experience is my experience in this world just like others have their own experiences. I have become more curious about others’ experience rather than jumping to conclusions as I use to readily to do. Overall, I’d say I have learned so much more about myself, who I am, what I can offer to the world, and what my growing edges still are.
My overarching message is to always follow what you believe in, what inspires you, and be open to whatever the universe may throw at you. Be open to all experience, so many people enter our lives for a reason. It’s okay to be scared. Every experience has something to offer even if it doesn’t turn out the way we wanted or planned. You can always learn and take something away to apply in the future. If you follow your heart and trust yourself, you can’t go wrong.