Linda Sanders, RN, never expected to have a life-long career helping people with addictions. In fact, when her mother, who was an RN, worked in the mid-1960s for Dr. Gordon Bell (the internationally recognized pioneer in addictions treatment), she suggested Linda get a job working with him, but Linda wasn’t interested.
“I remember mom coming home and saying maybe you'll go work with Gordon Bell because he’s going to go and build a place near Sunnybrook Hospital,” Linda recalls. Instead, when she graduated with her nursing degree in 1971, she worked in pediatrics, medical surgery, geriatrics and occupational nursing.
Then one day a friend called and told her there was a nursing position at Donwood, the public hospital Dr. Bell opened in 1967. When a day and evening shift opened up, Linda agreed to come in for an interview and as she says, “That's how it all began.”
Linda’s role transitioned into a nurse counsellor position. “We worked with clients for about two years after they left the 28-day treatment program. We’d also have volunteers from the community as well as clients who had been sober for a year who attended the aftercare groups and gave the newer clients support,” she says. The nurse counsellors would also run groups to reinforce what clients had learned in their program including stress management, relapse prevention, healthy eating and exercise. She also worked with the families who were allowed to attend the aftercare meetings.
Linda's career in addictions has also included working as head nurse for an outpatient psychiatry and alcohol program, and working at a treatment centre in the U.S. She had her own private practise at one point, though she found that too isolating. She also worked as an internal EAP counselor in the federal government, providing counselling and teaching staff about stress management, retirement preparation management development, Brain Gym and other health topics. She also initiated and organized employee Wellness Fairs.
Linda started working at CAMH about five years ago and now works part-time in the medical detox program at CAMH's Queen Street site. “I love this job,” she says. “I love sitting with clients and listening and talking to them and trying to get to know them.” She says that support, empathy, being human and a sense of humour are essential for working in this field.
Linda has seen numerous changes over the years in the way business and industry approach addiction problems among their staff. She saw it shift in the 1970s, when the unions began advocating for people to have treatment rather than being terminated if they had an alcohol or drug problem.
Working in a medical detox she now also sees more clients experiencing mental health issues as well as addictions. “If you recall back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the question was, ‘Is it mental health or addictions?’ That's all changed, because now we treat it right across the board, which is very important,” she says.
In spite of her initial reluctance, Linda says, “It's just worked out to be a really nice career.” In addition to enabling her to work in diversified fields from addictions treatment in Canada and the U.S. to counselling and teaching as an EAP counsellor, she has met many different people across the world through her involvement as an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counsellor. All of her positions have provided her with opportunities for further education and training, which have helped to continually advance her career.
“It's what you learn through life that contributes to being a good nurse. I hope I display pride in the work I do. I have fun with the clients and I think they respect that,” she says. Sometimes younger nurses ask if they can follow her around to learn from her. But she says with all their new medical knowledge, they have a lot to teach her. “I'll say to them: ‘Follow me around. You can teach me and hopefully I can teach you.’”
She adds, “I am very grateful to all the people I have worked with in both my nursing career and as an EAP counsellor. Without their knowledge being passed onto me and their caring attitudes, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Everyone touches you in different ways and that’s what I hope I do for clients in their quest for recovery.”