Taking a walk in the woods can improve our mental health, says Christine Rothmaier, a graduate of the addictions and mental health program. Photo credit: Leslie Bader

When Christine Rothmaier was in her early twenties, she was in a bad accident which left her struggling with PTSD. To cope with her feelings, she started drinking alcohol, which made her depression worse. Rothmaier began counselling sessions with a therapist, and this helped her recover from past trauma.

After completing a degree in sociology at the University of Windsor, Rothmaier, 25, enrolled in the newly established addictions and mental health graduate certificate program at Algonquin College.

Offered through the AC Online campus, this 42-week program teaches students about concurrent disorders and how to develop appropriate strategies for clinical practice. There were over 400 applications for the inaugural full-time semester in fall 2021, which greatly exceeded the program’s capacity of 35 seats.

Spring 2022 offers 30 seats and there are plans to add 10 more for Fall 2022.

How are addiction and mental health connected? “You have to work on why you are drinking, and the drinking,” said Rothmaier. “Mental health is where my heart is at.”

Her goal is to eventually complete a graduate degree in counselling psychology.

Sabrina Bellefeuille, 35, is a subject matter expert who developed the courses for the addictions and mental health program. Bellefeuille has 14 years of experience working in clinical recovery and is 18 years sober.

The program’s curriculum consists of self-guided modules which include theory, filmed case studies and practicum preparation.

“The pandemic blew up mental health as a sector,” said Bellefeuille.

Students can do the asynchronous courses at their own pace, which helps people who are trying to balance work and school. A final field placement with a community agency is facilitated by a dedicated coordinator. Service settings may include homeless shelters, residential treatment programs and hospices.

The program works with the concept that recovery is on a continuum, from harm reduction to abstinence. Motivational interviewing, relapse prevention, ethics and discharge planning are taught with a client-centred appoach. The student comes to understand the family and community behind them and with them, according to Bellefeuille.

“Before you do this program, ask yourself: ‘Have I done the work myself?” said Bellefeuille. “Am I bringing my authentic and healed self to this work?’”

“You do not need to be perfect,” she said. “But you do need to be there for the person in front of you.”