Name: Keith Leung
Born: Oakville, Ontario
Profession: Social Work
There is a great deal of training in psychology that is required for a career in social work. We talk to Keith Leung to find out what it's like to be a Youth Counselor.
What is a Youth Counselor?
I work at an outdoor treatment facility for kids with issues ranging from substance abuse, poor family relations, and/or behavioral issues. As a youth counselor, I work directly with youth aged 13-18. As a counsel or I am responsible for a variety of tasks such as tutoring, being a liaison between parents and their child, one-on-one counseling,facilitating group therapy sessions, and holding youth accountable to help them reach their goals. Overall, a Youth Counselor is about being a mentor to kids, developing genuine relationships, creating supportive and encouraging environments, and teaching life skills to enhance their chances of success.
What is a typical day as a Youth Counselor in an outdoor treatment facility?
In our outdoor treatment facility, we always do all activities with the same kids in our group. Each group has approximately 12 residents. Our days start off at 6am and end roughly around 9pm, depending on how fast we get things done during the day. Every day is packed with activities which are scheduled by the residents. Here is an example of an entire day:
6:00 - 6:30 — Wake up, clean the cabin and campsite
6:30 - 6:45 — Walk down the hill towards main campus and eat breakfast
7:00 - 8:00 — Breakfast in the dining hall and administer medication to residents
8:00 — 11:00 — School (also known as "break time" for counselors)
11:00 — 12:00 — Recreation (usually play sports or read in the library)
12:00-1:00 — Lunch in the dining hall
1:00— 3:30 — Plan and facilitate an outdoor adventure education class using different challenges to improve group work, trust, and positive self-esteem.
3:30 — 5:00 — Do laundry, play recreational activities, and take showers
5:00 — 6:00 — Dinner
6:00- 8:30 — Facilitate a nightly campfire meeting (Group therapy session.Residents discuss personal issues and share them with the group and receive feedback. Each resident also creates goals to work on each day that would help them in their treatment and these goals are evaluated by the group during this time.)
8:30 — 9:00 — Administer evening medications to residents
9:00 — Sleep in the cabin
Although our days seem pretty packed, conflict almost always occurs between residents during the day. These conflicts are addressed as a group.Each time an argument arises, the group circles up and the individuals involved express their feelings in an appropriate manner. It is the counselor's job to moderate these huddles and encourage residents to be assertive about their feelings. In the end, the counselor has the final say in the resolution of the issue.
In the end, the role of the counselor is much more than just taking kids from one place to another. You live with them, eat with them, play with them, and are pretty much one of them. The main role of the Youth Counselor is to help guide youth by promoting positive lifestyles,teaching coping skills, and encourage them to never give up by giving them an unconditional positive regard.
What is the last movie you saw? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Dark Knight... thumbs WAY UP!
If you had to be a vegetable, what would it be and why?
I would be a head of cabbage because my head is ridiculously large and round
Would you rather smell intensely of raspberries or be blue like a Smurf?
Odd... I'll be a smurf
Did you always want to be a Youth Counselor?
I have always enjoyed working with youth, especially those who struggled in school. As a struggling learner myself, I empathized with this population much more and decided to work with them.
What courses in University prepared you for this career, and how?
In first year, I was required to take many of the core science courses ( i.e
Biology,Chemistry, Calculus). While at the time I did not see its relevance, it built a foundation for which many other psychology courses would be based on. In my field, I work with many individuals with drug and alcohol abuse and it is important to know what and how these substances work in the body as well as proper research methods to have a clearer understanding of how to help these individuals.
As you progress in University, the upper year classes start to become more focused in the specialization of your choice. A few examples of the courses I found most relevant were "Drugs and Behaviour", "Abnormal Psychology", and "Statistics". In "Drugs and Behaviour" and "Abnormal Psychology", I learned of the effects of certain types of drugs and how they effect the body both psychologically and biologically. In statistics, Calculus was used to learn proper research methods in determining the reliability and validity of current research, which is important for any healthcare worker. It was absolutely necessary to take all of those core science courses in order to pave the way for more specialized fields in psychology.
Best garage sale find
My first bicycle
You just won a million dollars. What's the first thing you'd do?
Find my identical hand twin.
Where did you go to university?
I went to York University for Kinesiology first year and changed majors to Psychology in second year.
How did you decide where to go?
I wrote down all the pros and cons of each University/College and rated each item on a scale from 1 to 10 and added the scores for each school.I went to the school with the most points.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished university?
I think the only other training you should invest in is to work with youth from a variety of settings. In the summer, I would often work for summer camps and during the year I was a math tutor for struggling learners.
What's your favorite hangout?
A rock climbing gym downtown Toronto
What's your favorite phrase?
"Eat and be merry for tomorrow you may die" — fortune cookie
What is the coolest part of your job?
I get to be a kid again. I love my job because I get to bring out my true personality. I also love the outdoors and a few times a year we organize week-long canoe and hiking trips.
What's the worst part of your job?
I think it takes a certain type of person to work in Social work. I found it very hard not to take things too personally. It is also very easy to take other resident's problems home with you. The emotional strain is quite draining so you need to find good support networks for your self to help alleviate the stress.
What's your favorite piece of clothing?
What's the all-time best movie?
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
I thought it would be a good idea to have a gingerbread house eating contest with my students after we made them. Sure enough, many got sick from all the sugar and began puking and I was told never to organize such a thing again.
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
When starting off in this career, like many, wages start off low. Find something you feel passionate about doing and do it. Don't worry so much about the salary because if you do something you truly love and are truly passionate about doing it, the money will come. Take courses in the Social sciences such as English or Psychology to help broaden your understanding of the field.
What is a typical salary range for a Youth Counselor?
The starting salary for many youth counselors ranges from $21-30,000/year.Many of these positions include room and board so in reality the salary is pretty good.
What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
Association for Experiential Education
Outward Bound Canada