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Vancouver graduate looks back at winding journey to becoming a clinical counsellor

Stories | 11.08.23

Prior to pursuing the Master’s in Counselling Psychology (MACP) at Adler University, Shawna Dash already had a hodgepodge of different careers.

She’s been a supervisor at summer camps, and has worked with people with disabilities in recreational and sports settings. When she moved to Vancouver, Dash took jobs in hospitality and sales. From there, she transitioned to fundraising and business development at nonprofits. She even dabbled with a little bit of marketing.

“I’ve had a little party of different career avenues,” said Dash, who is from Victoria, British Columbia, but has lived in Vancouver for almost nine years.

But when Dash decided to pursue a career in counselling in 2021, it didn’t necessarily come out of left field.

“I’ve always been someone who goes deep with people. Even in high school, my nickname was Dr. Phil,” she said, laughing. “And in my undergrad, when I decided to take two upper-level electives, I picked two counselling classes. They were the highest marks I received throughout my entire undergraduate education.”

The last push was from her own experience with mental health and discussing with her therapist her need to help people more directly.

“She was like, ‘I think you’ll be a great counsellor,’ which is something I’ve heard before,” Dash said. “So here we are.”

On Nov. 19, Dash will be among the graduates walking across the stage of the Orpheum Theatre to celebrate the Vancouver Campus’ commencement ceremony.

Until then, Dash is looking back on her journey, sharing what led her to Adler University, the highlights of the past two years, her post-graduate school plans, and how she ultimately plans to celebrate the big day.

Photo of Shawna Dash

Shawna Dash enjoys the natural beauty of British Columbia.

What led you to Adler and to pursue the MACP program?

I wanted to pursue a master’s degree to become a registered clinical counsellor. I looked at different schools but there were two reasons I picked Adler. The first was its focus on social justice. As someone who worked in nonprofits, I have seen so many inequities and injustices that affected people I’ve met in my life and career. The second was that it was in Vancouver and in person. I wanted to form better relationships with people, including my professors and colleagues.

What have been some of the highlights during your time at Adler?

Adler really made me feel at home, made me feel safe, and made me feel confident with my own skills. What made me feel seen were the many great professors that I had. One in particular was Erik Jensen, Ph.D., who really supported me and kept reminding me to take my educational journey one step at a time.

I came to Adler as an older student with minimal background in psychology. Many in my cohort included people who did their undergrad in psychology. I felt so far behind. Dr. Jensen was one of those who really nurtured me.

The other was my trauma professor who also taught my counselling theories course, Gillian Drader. She is an excellent practitioner. Her heart and soul really came across in the material she taught.

Another highlight is receiving the Kelty and Riley Dennehy Scholarship this past spring, my last semester. It’s funded by Ginny and Kerry Dennehy, in honor of their two kids. They are passionate and generous donors who give back to several organizations in Vancouver. I specifically received the scholarship for my work at my clinical practicum site and for supporting vulnerable youth.

Can you tell us more about your practicum experience?

I conducted it at a place called Restorative Counselling, an indigenous-led organization. I did client intakes, goal setting, treatment plans, and one-on-one and group counselling with a range of individuals, including adults and kids, with various needs. One of the most beautiful things about this experience was that indigenous teachings were woven into the therapy modalities I worked with at Restorative Counselling. Many counselling theories are created by white people, specifically white men. But at this site, teachings by different elders across B.C. were integrated into the material.

What does commencement mean to you?

It’s an opportunity to practice mindfulness, to give yourself self-compassion, and celebrate your wins. So often we live in this autopilot state, moving from one thing to the next and the next, and so on. Commencement gives us a chance to pause and recognize the hard work and sacrifices we’ve made. It’s both an ending and a beginning of something special.

What’s your plan after Adler?

Right now, I’m a registered clinical counsellor at a place called Nimble Counselling. It was started by a counsellor who also graduated from Adler six years ago. One of my future goals is to start my own private practice down the road.

How has your time at Adler prepared you for what’s next?

The biggest thing I’ll take away from my time at Adler is recognizing my power and privileges. The cultural competency piece has taught me to practice cultural humility and commit to on-going learning. It has taught me to challenge the systems and to understand that therapy can be discriminatory. It has taught me to use a bigger lens when looking for answers on what is healing and what is health.

How do you plan to celebrate after commencement?

My family will be there. My partner’s family will be there. We’ll all probably go eat something yummy afterwards. Maybe sushi and sake. That’s what I’m hoping for. Somewhere with good food.

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