Graduate Studies Program: Addictions and Mental Health Counselling

Initiated by Drs. Kerry Bernes and Gary Nixon, University of Lethbridge faculties of Education and Health Sciences collaborate to launch an exclusive Graduate Studies program

When we think about addictions many of us tend to think conventionally – substance abuse, eating disorders and gambling come to mind. But what about internet addictions, shopping compulsions or sex addictions?

In clinical terms, Dr. Gary Nixon of the University of Lethbridge, Faculty of Health Sciences, describes addiction as a habituated pattern, “when something, a substance, relationship or material thing takes over someone’s life, to the detriment of work life, intimate family life, and social life.”

“Addictions can occur at any juncture of our life, adolescence, mid-life, or even post-retirement,” explains Dr. Kerry Bernes, Assistant Dean Graduate Studies and Research, Faculty of Education. Although some people are more susceptible to addictions, due to less access to resources and education, no one is immune. Often, addiction is symptomatic of broader mental health issues.

The Faculty of Health Sciences currently offers an undergraduate degree in Addictions Counselling, and approval has recently been granted to establish a Master’s program specifically designed to address the interconnection between addictions issues and mental health issues.

The new M.Ed. in Addictions and Mental Health Counselling will provide a “stronger clinical focus through the integration of a wide spectrum of recognized evidence-based interventions,” Nixon explains. Moreover, it will be offered as a partnership between the Faculties of Health Sciences and Education.

Prospective students are those who have been working in addictions counselling or related fields with two or more years of counselling experience. Like the M.Ed Counselling Psychology program, this new program will provide a pathway to being registered as a psychologist.

This is a critical direction given that, unlike nursing and social work, addictions counselling is currently a non-regulated health profession. Organizations such as Alberta Health Services are, however, beginning to demand that these practioners be licensed.

“Our goal is to attract practioners with strong clinical skills who are interested in more advanced clinical counselling theory and practice,” says Nixon. In fact, the first half of the program is devoted to hands-on clinical practice, in Markin Hall’s state-of-the-art labs.    

For more information: