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Making a difference in addiction recovery

Sask Polytech's Mental Health and Addictions Counselling Program paves the way for graduates.
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Two-time Sask Polytech graduate Shannon Obey takes the lead in supporting mental health initiatives.

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan Polytechnic graduate Shannon Obey is on a mission to make a difference in the lives of children and families affected by substance use disorders. After completing her Early Childhood Education diploma in 2020, Obey worked with children at an Aboriginal Head Start program in Regina. It was during this time that she realized the need to work with families to prevent substance use disorders before they develop.

“I was working so hard with a child on helping them be successful, then I realized they're going home to the same challenging environment. It was hard for me to accept,” she explains. “I wanted a job that would allow me to work not only with children but also with their families.” Determined to make a greater impact Obey decided to enter Sask Polytech’s Mental Health and Addictions Counselling program.

As a child, Obey was taken from her kokum (grandmother) and put into foster care before returning to the care of her mother. Drawing from personal experience, Obey understands the importance of addressing the root causes of addiction to support individuals and families through recovery.

“I am eight years in recovery,” she shares. “As I went through Sask Polytech’s Mental Health and Addictions Counselling program I started putting it into my perspective, my own upbringing. It’s taught me quite a bit about my own internal issues. As I went along my education journey, I realized I was missing my culture.”

Obey's education at Sask Polytech helped her renew her cultural identity as she connected with an Elder through the ê-sihtoskâtoyahk ᐁᓯᐦᑐᐢᑲᑐᔭᐦᐠ Indigenous students’ centre (Cree for strengthening/ supporting each other). Throughout her clinical, Obey had the opportunity to work in an Indigenous treatment centre, which provided additional knowledge and cultural experiences. Motherhood has also been a source of motivation to reconnect as her daughter started asking questions about the Saulteaux culture. Together they continued to learn about their cultural heritage, including the Saulteaux language.

In her current job, Obey provides post-treatment counselling to individuals who have finished the Pine Lodge Addiction Recovery program in Regina and now reside in a sober living home. She is also a peer advocate for the Talking Stick, a free anonymous app for Indigenous people who need someone to talk to. Peer advocates communicate through messaging to provide guidance and support to people in real-time. As part of her involvement with Talking Stick, Obey went to Ottawa to share her experience as a peer advocate.

“I shared my most impactful conversation which happened to be with a young child. As difficult as it was to understand this child, I knew I needed to help them to safety by writing in simple language and having a lot of patience. Some children may not have the comprehension to pick up a phone and seek help, so it is important to be able to provide a safe place,” she explains.

Updated Mental Health and Addiction Counselling program

In the summer of 2021 Sask Polytech introduced an updated version of the Mental Health and Addictions Counselling two-year diploma. The program is now available through online delivery and students are required to attend four in-person residencies throughout their studies. There are three practicums totaling over 500 hours of applied skills practice. With the new delivery format, students can study where they live and bring their knowledge in the specialty to communities across the province to assist with Saskatchewan’s growing mental health and addictions crisis.

Joy Friesen, program head, explains how the evolution of the program came about. “The program was redesigned and relaunched for virtual delivery. We have increased content on mental health and trauma informed practice. We have further indigenized the program. For example, we have included content on land-based healing, Indigenous leadership styles and plant-based medications. We have also augmented content on the recovery process and harm reduction practices.”

Obey is one of the first students to graduate from the updated program. As a mom of two young children, doing an online course was beneficial for her. Plus, the hands-on experience through the program’s practicums proved to be invaluable. 

“What I really enjoyed was the zoom conversations with classmates. It was helpful to connect with classmates because it was a lot of information to take in. There were times where we had to meet in person and I thought that was also helpful because it made our connection more personal,” she notes.

Obey adds, “What stood out to me was the hands-on experience. I was able to work in environments that taught me the skills I need. We learn, we practice, but to actually experience it hands-on, not only once, but three times prepared me for my future career.”

In addition to working with people in recovery, Obey continues to work with children.  

“My biggest goal is to work within my community. Then eventually to work with other Indigenous communities to help people heal and develop the coping skills they may need.”

Friesen adds, “With her dedication to helping others and her firsthand experience, Shannon Obey is a powerful advocate for mental health and addictions counselling. She is a great role model for students in our program.”

Sask Polytech’s Mental Health and Addictions Counselling program is aligned to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse technical and behavioral competencies and the Canadian Addictions Counsellor Certification Federation (CACCF) core functions of clinical practice. Upon graduation some of the student’s clinical practice education hours are recognized clinical supervision which supports graduates to achieve full CACCF certification as a mental health and addictions counsellor or prevention worker.

Learn more about Sask Polytech’s Mental Health and Addictions Counselling program.

— Submitted by Saskatchewan Polytechnique Media Relations

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