Sarah Ries was raised as a Mennonite, with pacifism and service at the core of her beliefs. She studied sociology, Spanish, and religion as an undergraduate. “I don't have a time in memory when service wasn’t a part of my life. I have a lot of healers in my family," she says. When she found herself at a crossroads in her career path, she asked herself, “What is my purpose?” The answer was to be of service to the people around her.
Early on in her career she worked in social services and was frequently told that she should go into counseling. “I was always the one people came to with their problems.” Having run a cleaning business and worked in catering and as a personal trainer, she understands that it may take a while for people to find their focus. “I got there eventually, I just took the long way."
Meeting the Challenge
The MPS in Integrated Behavioral, which she heard about from a friend in the program, seemed to be a perfect fit. “I’ve known for a long time that substance use disorders didn’t stand alone,” Ries says, about the program’s holistic approach to counseling. “There are usually mental health issues underlying the substance use disorder and complicating the recovery process.”
This understanding, Ries believes, “invites you to embrace human redemption and second-chances. No matter how many times someone has tried to get well, we need to be there, offering hope that recovery is still possible.”
There were many remarkable learning moments for Ries throughout her time in the IBH program. “I’m learning that the change of a word or phrase can make the difference between a positive, strength-based approach and a more blaming-and-shaming one.” This can make all the difference in building a trusting relationship with an individual.
One of the most pivotal moments Ries had was during the Lifespan Development course when she came to understand that it's not “what’s wrong with you; it’s what happened to you” that’s important to uncover. “This idea has completely changed the way I view human behavior and has helped me to have more compassion and a better understanding of why people do what they do.”
"No matter how many times someone has tried to get well, we need to be there, offering hope that recovery is still possible.”
Ries was also challenged to look inside herself for patterns and limitations. "Almost every course I took had elements to it that required me to look inward and honestly evaluate my biases and limitations. I think this is essential to understand, in that it informs how you show up for your clients.”
Life in COVID Times
Even without the COVID-19 pandemic, life for Ries has changed dramatically while she was pursuing her degree. She got married, had a child, and moved from the city to 11 acres of land in the country. Balancing school/internship, evolving family responsibilities, relationships, pandemic complications, and self-care is a daily exercise in time management.
“It’s a constant struggle between competing values and there have been many times I’ve had to choose between priorities. I’m realizing that sometimes it just has to be good enough."
After a three-month internship break due to the pandemic, Ries is back interning full-time with plans to officially graduate this fall. She notes that her professors and the IBH staff have been very supportive during this unpredictable and difficult time.
“I’ve started looking for jobs. The internship I’m in now has been a good place for me to assess my next step; I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I want my work-life balance to be.” To take care of herself, Ries meditates and exercises regularly, often incorporating her son into her routines. “Exercise is meditative; it’s like releasing the pressure valve. I wake up at 5:30 to get that in sometimes, so I’m not starting with a deficit.”
Her long-term goals include possibly implementing an individualized approach to counseling in a country where mental health issues are not widely addressed. Ries says she will always be working to change general perceptions and misconceptions that society holds about substance use and mental health disorders.
Pro Tips for Students
- Enjoy the process; enjoy the learning.
- Be prepared to learn more about yourself than expected.
- Work hard at understanding the big picture.
- Sometimes less is more (regarding the pace you take in the program).