By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
Judy Atkinson graduated from Trent University in 2000 with a degree in psychology. From there she went to the University of Toronto, but found she wasn't happy with "research, research, research," So the Oshawa-based Atkinson began looking for something that was still in that field but more practical, more hands-on.
Atkinson found it with the Addictions Counsellor program at Durham College in Oshawa, a one-year, full-time post-diploma course that will graduate 17 students this year.
"As soon as I got in there I just loved it," says Atkinson, an intake worker for Durham Region CAS. "With the psychology background it was just a natural fit."
She graduated in 2002, the first year the program was offered, and Atkinson can't say enough about how it prepared her for the real world with its real problems.
Kenneth Lomp, program co-ordinator for Human Services Programs at Durham, says addictions counselling is a graduate certificate course so applicants need a degree or diploma for admission. The age range starts at about 25 and can reach the mid-50s. Classes are about two-thirds women. Tuition fees are $2,730.
There are two major reasons why students enter the program, Lomp says. One is that they have decided to work in the "helping professions" and the other is some personal or familial connection to an addiction.
Lomp admits the course is tough: "(Students) find it very difficult, and the reason for that is we have jam-packed everything into one year. Our students are very high performing. They are incredibly high performing."
The 45-week program is taught three ways. There are classroom lectures; work that is assigned and completed over the Internet; and a final semester unpaid placement -- usually in summer -- that lasts 14 weeks at a treatment centre or somewhere similar.
Sometimes those internships lead to full-time employment. A case in point would be Daniela Leca, an addictions counsellor at the Pinewood Centre in Oshawa.
Leca got her certificate from Durham last year. A doctor in her native Romania, Leca also has a B.A. in psychology from Queen's University and a pharmacy technician's diploma.
She says she got bored with her pharmacy job, but wanted to remain in healthcare. Addictions counselling was a natural progression, Leca says, and allowed her to draw on her medical training.
Durham College, Human Services
She gives the 14-week placement requirement her wholehearted support. "It's a very good idea. I didn't know what to expect. The placement provided the whole picture of addictions counselling."
The employment outlook for addictions counsellors seems not bad to good depending on location.
"Our graduates are doing fairly well," says Lomp, who, like so many others in human services, points out the public sector's pay and benefits tend to be higher than those of private companies. He suggests a new graduate with a degree and an addictions counselling certificate might start at $40,000 a year.
Fred Mota, a Durham student completing his placement, agrees with Lomp's estimate. He says government jobs pay about $20 an hour, perhaps a bit more for anyone working in corrections, but in private sector positions, hourly wages can drop to $10 to $12 an hour.
Leca, who says working in addictions counselling has given her a new perspective on her own life, takes a philosophical approach to pay.
"The money's not great, but this is the social services field."
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