When I was struggling with my addiction, I was in a small town, a newly single mom working two and three jobs and trying to provide for my kids. Driving all the way into Lethbridge to get help was out of the question at the time. Today, for me, it's about being able to help, being able to advocate for somebody and go from there. I'm seriously considering further education because it's a vital pathway to recovery for addicted sufferers and their families.

Health Sciences student Virginia Ridge knew she wanted to pursue a career in health care when she started college, but soon had a change of heart.

How did you decide to pursue addictions counselling?

My original plan was to go to nursing school, but after starting college, I wanted to learn how to become an addictions counsellor. I came to ULethbridge as a college transfer student to the Bachelor of Health Sciences in Addictions Counselling. It has been a life-changing experience.

Addiction has a ripple-effect on the family system. Branching out from the person suffering with addiction are partners, spouses, children, parents, aunts, uncles and anybody with a relationship to the addicted sufferer. Unfortunately, my addiction took a very large toll on my own relationship with my kids, my mom and my sister.

How has learning more about addiction and substance abuse from a family and couple perspective been a benefit?

The knowledge I've gained from our study on how addiction truly works, not only socially but neurologically and biologically, has made a huge difference to me personally and as a student. I've shared knowledge from my family therapy courses with my loved ones, which helps them understand and heal, as well.

Gaining evidence-based knowledge and different communications techniques is so important when working with families and couples. More front-line professions should focus on it. When I'm done my degree, Dr. Bonnie Lee's online Graduate Certificate in Couple and Family Counselling Studies could help me work in a field I love and pay the bills while I study. I think the grad program could also be a huge help to those who work in healthcare, law enforcement or social services.

Also, having instructors who are also registered practitioners and researchers has been a big benefit. It puts us into different counselling contexts, so we learn a variety of communications skills, therapy models and relational frameworks. This helped me combine my learning from my counselling textbooks with practical skills. I've already gotten really valuable insight into critical areas of psychotherapy practice, and I'll get first-hand experience in my upcoming clinical internship.

What do you plan to do when you complete your bachelor's degree?

When I was struggling with my addiction, I was in a small town, a newly single mom working two and three jobs trying to provide for my kids. Driving to Lethbridge for help was out of the question at the time. Today, for me, it's about being able to help, being able to advocate for somebody, and just, you know, going from there.

I want to make a difference to those seeking help recovering from or living with addiction. I want to help marginalized people, those who live in small towns or rural areas and anyone with barriers or limited access to mental health services.

I'm seriously considering further education because it's a vital pathway to recovery for addicted sufferers and their families. The new grad program in couple and family counselling would help me balance family, work and school, especially because it's offered online, without the commitment of a master's degree.

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