This past April, Integrated Behavioral Health student Melissa Rozmiarek was accepted to the Minority Fellowship Program for Addictions Counselors through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC). The fellowship aims to strengthen “the infrastructure that engages diverse individuals in counseling and increases the number of substance use disorder professional counselors who provide direct substance use disorder services to minority populations.” (from the NAADAC website)
1. Congratulations! Tell us about the NBCC fellowship.
It’s a phenomenal opportunity to learn and collaborate with 40 other master’s students throughout the nation. Not only are fellows afforded numerous conferences and professional development opportunities, we are each awarded money to carry out a project we develop to benefit a minority population.
I chose to work with two-spirit folks here in the Twin Cities and am working with a fellowship-appointed mentor on a way to connect them and the rest of our local Native community to much needed health resources and education. In exchange, we agree to register as a National Certified Counselor and work with a minority population for at least a year after licensure. It’s been both a challenge and a blessing, and I definitely recommend applying.
2. Talk about why you chose to focus on this issue?
The disparity in access to quality health care for Native Americans in Minnesota is unjustly large. They experience the highest rates of overdose, drug and alcohol abuse, trafficking, and death by suicide of all major racial groups in the state.
This community deserves better than what most of society is willing to give, so I wanted to offer my support and advocacy in the area I know best, behavioral health. Working to connect them with resources seemed like the least I can do.
"There are numerous studies about the benefits of connection with nature, but Indigenous peoples' connection to the earth is much deeper and more spiritual."
3. What did you study as an undergraduate?
I double majored in psychology and environmental studies. I know it sounds like an odd combination, and I thought so too, until a really influential professor explained that any environmental problem society faces today can be traced to human influences. That explanation is what really encouraged me to pursue further studies in an area that I was already passionate about and look for ways to incorporate nature into my behavioral health work.
There are numerous studies about the benefits of connection with nature, but Indigenous peoples‘ connection to the earth is much deeper and more spiritual. After hearing local leaders share their personal experiences, the relationship of mental health and nature became clear.
4. What brought you to the IBH program?
I was drawn to the IBH program after a few volunteer opportunities at the end of undergrad. I was already pretty set on working with psychology in some way, but getting to interact with real people in health care settings sealed it for me. The U of M has a well-known reputation in psychology and helping professions, and after four years in Saint Paul for undergrad, the Twin Cities had won me over. It felt right to stay in Minnesota for the foreseeable future and establish myself here.
5. Can you apply what you learn in class to your current job?
I’m currently doing a chemical health counseling internship at a women’s residential substance use treatment center. I get to apply what I’ve learned to work with real clients. I help facilitate group and individual counseling, provide client education, and do assessments. Spending time there and working on my fellowship project have kept me busy!
- Be ready to read and write a lot! In undergrad, most reading was to learn, but now you’re reading to apply that knowledge. I suppose that’s grad school for you, but there’s so much to absorb as you go through the program.
- Keep an open mind. Be willing to challenge your existing beliefs and assumptions. Self-evaluation and exploration will become second nature by graduation!
- Build relationships with your professors and your cohort, even if their styles clash with yours. Those connections will open up opportunities. It’s a small world, and chances are good you’ll see people again throughout your career.
- Don’t be afraid to be wrong. If you misinterpret something a client said, they’re likely to correct you. Being wrong or saying “I don’t know” is okay. It humanizes you and sets an example for the people you work with that no one always has all the answers and that’s okay.
- Stay curious. Everyone’s story and experience is unique to them. Genuinely wanting to understand that helps us to better help our clients.
Melissa Rozmiarek is a recipient of the Nolte-Miller, Ingrid Lenz Harrison, and Ceil T Victor scholarships.