Photo: CSW instructor, Sabrina Bellefeuille at her home in Ottawa, Ontario
Becoming a community services worker (CSW) means dedicating yourself to helping vulnerable people overcome personal and social difficulties.
Sabrina Bellefeuille knows all about the realities, rewards, and challenges of a CSW career.
She’s a graduate of Herzing College’s CSW diploma program and has worked in mental health services for more than 14 years.
Recently, she came back to Herzing to teach the CSW program.
We spoke with Sabrina this week to learn what students can expect from the program and the community services field in general.
Read on to meet the instructor, explore the CSW program, and learn more about the career path.
Q: Sabrina, can you tell us a little about your educational background?
Sabrina: I started my education at Herzing College in the CSW diploma program.
I worked in the field for about seven years, then went back to school to further my education. I went to Carleton University and got my BA in criminology and criminal justice with a concentration in law.
I’ve kept in contact with Herzing ever since I graduated, and I used to come back once a year to do guest lectures and workshops. So, when the instructor position came up, I jumped at it.
Q: What types of social work positions have you held and where have you worked?
Sabrina: When I was a Herzing student, I was already involved with homelessness and street outreach, peer support services, and harm reduction services. So that’s where I found a passion for the field.
After graduation, I got into group facilitation, primary counselling, and relief counselling. I still have a foot in street outreach today, just more on the program coordination side and donations and funding.
I also have a hand in intake services for mental health in educational settings such as post-secondary schools.
Plus, I teach and build online courses for Herzing and other institutions.
Q: What makes Herzing’s CSW program unique?
Sabrina: I would say class size as well as one-on-one attention from the instructors.
My students can always reach me or someone from the college because it is that smaller community. No one goes under the radar or is missed.
We also don’t throw so much information at students that they drown. We keep it to the point, with just the right amount of theory and context.
You are given exactly what you need to start a career in the field. It’s so practical, but at the same time insightful, without being overwhelming. This is a very concise, very well thought-out program.
Q: In your view, what are the most valuable skills students learn in this program?
Sabrina: The CSW program covers a lot of really good practical knowledge: counselling ethics, communication skills, networking skills, community referrals, etc.
The most valuable skills are definitely case management as well as identifying the stages of a helping relationship and how to approach clients at each stage.
That applies to every area of the field: addictions, youth, homelessness, and so on. Students get an overview of the helping relationship as a whole, which can be applied in any broader context.
So once you get into your specific area, you can take this broad knowledge and apply it to your particular role.
Q: What can students expect to be doing while on internship?
Sabrina: It really depends on the agency.
I did my internship at a long-term treatment centre for women with trauma and addictions called Empathy House.
I was able to facilitate group therapies, review and add to core programming, and work with clients individually and through interventions.
It’s definitely realistic to expect to work one-on-one with people during your internship. It depends on the agency, but you do come with some skillsets that they recognize and want to use.
And if you go in and say I took this course, I have these skills, and I'm ready to jump in, the employer will be more confident in you as an intern.
Q: What are some examples of entry-level jobs CSW graduates could get?
Sabrina: Our CSW diploma graduates can land jobs as peer support workers, case managers, or counsellors.
Some counselling positions require you to be a registered psychotherapist, but there are addiction counsellor and youth counsellor positions that don’t necessarily require that registration.
Intake and admission services is another common role for new graduates.
Intake workers do brief assessments and screening, and kind of play traffic control between clients and agencies to make sure clients get into the right program.
Q: In your experience, what’s been the most rewarding part of working in this field?
Sabrina: I think the most rewarding part is watching people go from the darkest corners of their lives into the brightest of spaces.
When someone trusts you with something they could never trust anyone else with, that just relights the flame every single time.
Q: And what are some of the more challenging aspects of supporting at-risk populations?
Sabrina: I have been very, very blunt with my students on the importance of self-care.
Taking care of yourself in the times that you’re not working, having those professional boundaries, and being aware of what you need is really important in this field or you will exit it very quickly on stress leave.
I have faced overdoses in my office. I have faced the death of a client. I have faced holding a mother crying because her son is on the brink of death.
We deal with trauma and we stand in the trenches, so you need the ability to separate from that when you come home.
Q: How does someone know they’re a good fit for a CSW career?
Sabrina: Are you assertive? And if not, is that a skill you think you can learn?
You’re going to need communication skills, you’re going to need to be assertive, and you’re going to need to uphold professional boundaries.
So the personality that is assertive and strong in those things fits into this field very well.
You should be approachable, genuine, and empathetic. It’s important to have space in your mind for someone else’s perspective.
Also, be ready to learn and open to change.
Thank-you, Sabrina for giving us some greats insight into the CSW diploma program and the field of community services. We're very lucky to have you on the faculty at Herzing College.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE CSW diploma PROGRAM?
Herzing College Ottawa’s accelerated Community Services Worker diploma program takes just 12 months to complete.
Training includes an 8-week internship at a community organization.
Still have questions? An Admissions Advisor can provide all the details on course schedules, program costs, financial aid, careers, and more.
Click below to explore the CSW program and chat live with an Advisor. We’re here to help!