Professional Path: mental health

I am often asked why I would willingly choose to return to University when I have been out of academia for a few years and already have a well-established career.  For me the answer is easy, learning is a lifelong passion in the same way that helping people is an equally important passion. I have spent the last 10 years working in youth and adult correctional facilities, Youth and Adult Probation, as well as travelling the province working with multi-disciplinary human service intervention teams. My work has been stressful, tough and at times far from glamourous, but it is important.  To this day my work has provided me with some of the most rewarding and memorable experiences I have had. What I noticed throughout my time as a frontline worker was how many people have been affected in some way by trauma and/or adverse childhood experiences. I saw the consequences on a daily basis and felt it was not something I could ignore. This became an area of interest of mine and a push to apply for a Master of Social Work program so that I was better situated to provide support and help to those I had witnessed fighting a tough battle.

The traditional route for a Master of Social Work is to complete a Bachelor of Social Work and either work for a few years then enter Masters studies, or go right into a Master of Social Work Program after undergraduate studies. Master of Social Work programs can vary from a course based program, to a thesis based program or a field placement/internship program.  The time commitement is  2-3 years.  Historically, if you did not hold a Bachelor of Social Work, it was highly unlikely you would be eligible to apply to a Masters level Social Work program in Canada, but as I found out, with time and technology comes change!

Given I have never been one to follow a traditional route, I knew my program search would be more difficult. I hold a Bachelor of Psychology and a Bachelor of Human Justice, neither of which is Social Work. The other barrier facing me was an inability to relocate given my established career, mortgage, family, etc. Furthermore, in order to be eligible to register as a Social Worker (which many agencies require) in Saskatchewan one must complete a Bachelor or Masters level Social Work program from an accredited/approved Social Work education program. So my search began for a program that would accept my undergraduate credentials and work experience, could be done through distance education, and was accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education for registration eligibility in Saskatchewan.  There were just a few items on the checklist.

After hours of research online, digging deep into different programs and sending countless emails, I came across the Master of Social Work program through Wilfrid Laurier University out of Ontario, the first of its kind in Canada. The program is open to students who hold undergraduate degrees in different social science areas and can be done part-time and online as it caters to working professionals. The program is fully accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education and also includes an internship/field placement to integrate theory and practice. This program checked off all the boxes in my search criteria and boasted a focus on promoting the advancement of equity, inclusivity, reflexivity and social justice- which aligned with my values. I was sold!

In order to apply, I needed an academic average of 79% or higher, an undergraduate degree in the social sciences, at least 2 years of work experience in the human service field, a personal statement outlining my career goals and why I would be a good fit for the program as well as 3 references (1 academic and 2 professional).

After acceptance, I had a few months to prepare myself to be a part-time student in addition to working fulltime.  Once I started the program, I never once regretted my decision. It’s been fun meeting people from all over Canada and challenging myself to think outside the box, growing not only as an academic but also as a future Practitioner. It hasn’t been easy working fulltime, completing coursework. and a field placement.  I am lucky that I have a flexible employer, a loving husband, an awesome dog, and a fantastic team at Brownstone Health who remind me that what I am doing is meaningful and important.

While I may have taken the hard road to get to where I am today, I wouldn’t change any of it.  My experiences have helped shape the person I am today and the Practitioner I will be someday. So if you are thinking about applying to a Master of Social Work program, I hope my story provides the ammunition you needed to stop doubting your self and take a chance on applying, you won’t regret it!

Kirsten Denninger, MSW Intern (Student)