Helping the whole person: New BA focuses on addictions and mental health

After working for Service Alternatives, Houle decided she wanted to work in the human services field. Photo provided by Julia Houle

A new bachelor’s degree in human services this Fall has given Clark students access to not only a third BA degree, but a path to a masters degree as well.

The degree combines addictions counselling and mental health. Historically, these two occupations have been completely separate. According to Marcia Roi, coordinator of the addictions counselling education department, the new program responds to what employers have been asking for.

“We’ve got an opioid epidemic on, they’re screaming for drug counselors right now,” she Roi said. “My students, they are going to get jobs.”

The Mental health industry is changing as federal law now requires patience patients to be treated holistically, Roi said. In the old model of treatment, dual diagnosis was not widely studied. Now things are changing.

“You can’t treat addictions and mental health in silos anymore,” she said. When the two come together they form behavioral health then the primary care provider can be brought in to better serve the patient by treating all of their needs at once.

Unlike Clark’s two other BA programs, applied management and dental hygiene, the human services degree has rolling admissions, allowing students can to join any quarter. This is a program for working adults, Roi said. If students need to take a quarter off that will not be a problem. It is also why the classes are at night. After completing the human services degree, students can enroll in Eastern Washington University’s masters degree in social work attending classes on Clark’s campus.

Returning student, Julia Houle already earned her AA in business administration, intending to pursue a career in criminal justice. After a short time working

Plans to start prevention programs such as camps and educational programs. Jeni Banceu/The Indy

with the Transportation Security Administration she changed her mind.

“I then decided to take the other approach of helping people,” Houle said. After she began working at Service Alternatives, a local community outreach program, she realized she wanted to work in the human services field. “I haven’t looked back,” she said.

After researching options at Clark and nearby colleges, Houle decided that Clark had the only program that would help her pursue a path in human services.

“It’s a pliable degree,” she said. “You can even become a social worker with a human services degree.”

The flexibility of the degree is shown in the varied goals of its students.

Gene Bryan Fisher plans to serve the needs of the community. He wants to write grants to start prevention programs that will establish protective factors such as camps, educational programs, social networks and creating mentors, he said.

There are so many things in a child’s life that can not be controlled that may contribute to things later in life like addiction, Fisher said. This is why it is important to get kids involved in situations where they are able to interact with adults, he said.

“The child is able to pick and choose the most congruent modeling and that is going to completely change their emotional regulation,” he said. “It’s going to completely change their perception of abnormal and normal behavior.”

Fisher says the new human services degree is the most direct route for him to accomplish his goals.

Johnson’s goal is to work one-on-one with people suffering from addiction. Jeni Banceu/The Indy

Before the new program, students who graduated from Clark and transferred to WSU would have to retake classes because not all of Clark’s addiction counseling credits were transferable.

This is the situation that Fisher found himself in after graduating from Clark with an AA in addiction counseling. At WSU he even used the same textbook he had used for courses at Clark.

Now students have a direct path of learning for continued education, he said.

Returning to school after 40 years was a big challenge for Norm Johnson.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.

After his own experience working through a recovery program after his own battle with addiction, he decided it would be worth it to apply for Clark’s addictions counseling program.

“I have five years in recovery,” Johnson said. “I just decided that I wanted to help.” His goal is to work one-on-one with people suffering from addiction.

Eighty percent of people that seek treatment for addiction issues also have some kind of mental health issues. For a long time, counselors did not know whether to treat a patient’s addiction or address their mental health. Counselors were often only trained to address one or the other. Recently there has been more of a blending between addiction treatment and mental health, Johnson said.

The human services degree is open to anyone who either has a 2 two year degree or is within 15 credits of one.

However, getting the AA in addictions counseling does have some benefits. Employers are willing to pay higher wages to students with this degree. Employers have committed to funding the cost of the Health Services degree through tuition assistance, Roi said.

The degree was conceptualized by Roi.

“I believe that she realized that there was no clear path for professionals once they graduated the program here,” Fisher said.

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