As appearing in | March, 2020 | By Allie Ruckman

Psychology master’s student turns personal heartache into a fulfilling career

Jim Fox, a master’s student in the Addiction Counseling Program in the Department of Psychology at Colorado State University, didn’t initially know that he wanted to pursue a career in addiction counseling. He started his graduate degree in applied industrial and organizational psychology and it was only after securing a job with Mountain Crest Behavioral Health Center in Fort Collins that Fox discovered his passion for helping those with substance issues.

“I started working with people suffering from substance use and addiction, and other mental illness, and I just had a desire to switch programs and pursue a graduate degree that works directly with that population,” said Fox, who has been selected for the prestigious Minority Fellowship from the National Board of Certified Counselors.

“My brother-in-law had a lot of the same issues,” he said, “and it didn’t end well for him; he actually died about 6 years ago. There was always a part of me that wanted to do more and I felt like with this program I could reach and try to help people that may be struggling.”

The passing of Fox’s brother-in-law was a profound moment in his life.

“It’s been a big part of why I’m doing this and it’s going to be a motivating factor probably for much of my career, from here on out,” he said. “It was an unfortunate event that has really turned in to some positive motivation for me, and what I want to do.”

Working with communities at risk

The Minority Fellowship from the National Board of Certified Counselors is designed to provide treatment for people who typically don’t receive it, explained Brad Conner, director of the Addiction Counseling Program.

“Especially in addiction treatment where there is already an overrepresentation of minority individuals who are affected.”

To be considered for the fellowship students must commit to providing substance use disorder services to an underserved population within a year of graduation and must commit to providing such services for the duration of two years post-graduation.

These groups include children and adolescents, geriatric groups, people with marginalized identities, people in lower income areas, people in the LGBTQ+ community, or those who are veterans or are from military families.

Fellows are also awarded $15,000 and all-expenses-paid travel to out-of-state conferences and trainings.

Fox had already discovered his desire to work this these specific populations before receiving the fellowship, but was very happy to be recognized and supported for his hard work.

“Even before Jim started the master’s program, he was committed to helping individuals with addictions who don’t typically get treatment,” said Conner. “He has chosen to work with the two toughest populations: in-patient hospitalized individuals, who typically have severe complications from their addictions, and individuals who have been incarcerated.”

Conner spoke highly of Fox in his recommendation letter. “I can think of no other student who I have worked with who is more qualified for a National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship than Jim Fox,” he wrote. “Not only do I think he will benefit significantly receiving this fellowship, but I think the Fellowship Program will benefit from having Jim as a recipient.”

An impressive track record

The Addiction Counseling Program, in the CSU College of Natural Sciences, is an applied, terminal master’s program, focusing on hands-on learning and meaningful work out in the community. Students take one year of classes and complete an internship in the field their second year.

“The program is specifically focused to train individuals to become licensed addiction counselors,” explained Conner. “An individual who is a licensed addiction counselor can actually open a private practice to treat addictions if they want, or they can work in hospitals or drug treatment facilities.”

A large majority of students who have participated so far have been non-traditional. Many students are first generation, have a marginalized identity, or were returning to school after a long period of time. Non-traditional students make up 65% of this year’s cohort.

“What we are primarily trying to do is find individuals who are committed to treating addictions and who are going to go into the field, and then giving them the education they need to be able to bill insurance and to open their own practice,” said Conner.

The program has only been offered at CSU for three years, but already has an impressive track record. Fox is the second consecutive student from the program to be selected for this fellowship.

“In a brand-new program, the fact that two students back-to-back have been awarded this fellowship says a lot about Brad Conner and the whole staff, and I think this is a testament to their hard work and what they’ve done with this program,” Fox said, also praising how passionate the faculty and staff are in the entire psychology department.

Filling crucial roles in Larimer County

“Nationwide, we see about a 30% workforce shortage in addiction treatment; Larimer County tends to be running at about 36% to 40% workforce shortage,” said Conner. “Whether it’s cannabis, or methamphetamine, or cocaine, there’s a lot of substance use in Larimer County.”

When people in the county seek assistive services, they tend to come to Fort Collins to find that help, he added. “We are sort of a county seat for service provision. When people need help they come to Fort Collins. Colorado in general and Fort Collins and Northern Colorado more specifically are in desperate need of addiction counselors.”

For this reason, it is critical that the program continue to be successful and to train passionate students like Jim Fox.

The Department of Psychology is a part of CSU’s College of Natural Sciences.