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An Enlightening Education in Addictions Counseling

Three stacks of balanced rocks

Sharon Richardson Greenberger

Working with a mobile crisis unit, Master of Professional Studies in Addictions Counseling (ADDC) graduate Sharon Richardson Greenberger realized that most of their clients struggled with both mental health issues and addiction. As a practicing clinical therapist, she knew that people with co-occurring disorders often have to seek treatment from different sources.

“It's really frustrating when you would have to say, you need to come see me on Monday, you need to go to group therapy on this day, and then you need to go see your addiction counselor,” she says.

“I just felt as though... we were punishing people for their mental health. And I really felt the need to make services more readily available, and that is why I decided to go and get licensed.”

“I have loved every single minute of it.”

Sharon already holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology, but she chose to earn her alcohol and drug counseling license through the University of Minnesota’s ADDC program because of its comprehensive curriculum.

Sharon Richardson Greenberger

“I wanted to approach it as if I had no psychology experience whatsoever,” she says. “I wanted to learn from the ground up. And I absolutely loved the program and the instructors. I have loved every single minute of it.”

She appreciated the way the course work examined addiction in a way that attempts to lift stigma and focus on the individual.

“I just really feel the need to educate people that no matter what your choice of drug may be that ultimately we're human and we need help, and it's not about a lack of morals, it's about a need for connection.”

She also liked that the program recognizes the potential for burnout in the helping professions. “Being in the field a long time, I see where a lot of people have become really jaded and aren’t compassionate. And I think that the University really addresses that issue.”

Exploring Diversity, Examining Yourself

ADDC students and graduates come from all walks of life, and they are trained to work with a variety of clients. Sharon wants to work within the Somali community and was grateful for the chance to learn more about their culture, as well as Native American, Asian, and other cultures.

“It helped me tremendously,” she says. “I realized that within your culture, there's also the culture that you live in. And then there’s the culture that you work in and the culture that the kids go to school in. So all of that impacts your identity, and that, for me, was huge.”

"We're human and we need help, and it's not about a lack of morals, it's about a need for connection.”

Her classmates ranged from people in their 20s to 60s. Sharon loved the diversity of perspectives and “really learned to appreciate everybody's place in the program.”

Completing the ADDC program does require a certain amount of self-reflection, she notes, which helped her develop her own sense of identity. “I can be who I want to be and grab from the past, but my history doesn't determine my destiny.”

Challenges and Rewards

Like many adult students, Sharon held a full-time job while attending school part-time. She managed her own counseling business, interned for about 25 hours a week, and also did telemedicine with Fairview.

two faces speaking and thinking

“I really pushed myself because I was so eager to finish,” she says. “There are some challenges with that, but I was able to be open and honest with my instructors, and they were very adamant about self-care and tailoring the program specifically to my needs. And I've never seen that in a University before.”

She views this undertaking as part of completing a circle that began decades ago with our ancestors. “When I look at when our parents entered the workforce or became citizens, they had to work 80 hours to survive, and so, for me to have to do it for nine months, I felt like it was an honor.”

The Big Takeaways

  • The coolest thing was learning about different cultures and ethnicities that I had not learned about.
  • While you can have boundaries, you can learn from the people that you are working with, no matter where they are and what phase they are in their life. I really genuinely learned to care for everyone that I went to school with.
  • The U is pretty adaptable. When it came to COVID, the U said, okay, we're going to get feedback from you guys as to how we’re going to still give you the education and the experience that you need. They really were able to walk us through the process and validate our concerns and keep us safe.

Advice for Future Students

"Take the time to get to know yourself through the process, because you will become a much better counselor to others if you are able to be a counselor to yourself."

 

Sharon is a recipient of the Graduate Tuition and Ingrid Lenz Harrison scholarships.