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The road to success for UofGH alum Emma Pratt

Emma PrattPhoto courtesy of Emma Pratt

What motivated me to get into the field was to bridge a gap that I saw between service providers, and having a lived experience in something to bring a personal sense to the work that I do."

For University of Guelph-Humber alumna Emma Pratt, it’s her personal challenges that have become some of her biggest career strengths.

Pratt has lived with anxiety and depression since she was in high school. After having a negative experience with a social worker as a teen, she enrolled in UofGH’s Family & Community Social Services (FCSS) program, determined to build a career that would help others the right way.

“What motivated me to get into the field was to bridge a gap that I saw between service providers, and having a lived experience in something to bring a personal sense to the work that I do,” says Pratt.

She says she chose UofGH because she wanted the theoretical and practical knowledge the FCSS program offered. “I loved the FCSS program. What I enjoyed most were the placements I got to do, and the class sizes,” she says. “I think I was definitely well-prepared for my career—not only in what I learned during my placements, but also the combination of theoretical and hands-on, practical knowledge I got. I wanted to understand the theory of things, but I also wanted to know how to apply those theories.”

Making a difference in the lives of homeless men

Pratt now works as an addictions counsellor at the Ottawa Mission, a homeless shelter for adult men, which has a residential program for those struggling with addictions. There, she runs group sessions, does one-on-one counselling, and helps with intake and assessment.

She says her personal experience has given her a greater sense of empathy and understanding towards her clients.

“I think my lived experience helps me to be able to empathize better with the clients I work with,” she says. “Even though I haven’t gone through the same thing or even something similar to them, having been through my own journey with things, it helps me to better meet people where they’re at.”

She says she loves being a part of her clients’ life stories, and making a difference.

“I’m a firm believer that every single person has a story to tell, whatever that story looks like is going to vary from person to person, and I enjoy hearing stories from my clients, whether positive ones, and not so positive ones,” she says. “For me, being able to potentially be a part of that story, even in a small way, is an honour.”

“Seeing clients come back after they’ve finished the program is very gratifying,” she adds. “Just having people coming back and telling us they’re doing well, or even if they’re not doing well—we do see a lot of people coming back to re-access our services—but to me, seeing someone who knows we’re a safe place they can come back to, that’s huge for me.”

She says she has also developed a sense of self-awareness and a commitment to self-care, which makes her better at helping her clients. “I think a big thing for me is having been in a really low place, I’m very well adept to checking in with myself. There’s that saying you can’t pour from an empty jug. Having been through some not so great times, I have a pretty high level of self-awareness, which translates into how well I’m able to provide service to my clients.”

She advises students thinking about entering the field to make sure to prioritize self-care. “A piece of advice that I wish I would have gotten is do your own work. If that means you need to go to therapy, or just process through your own things, do that, because if you don’t, it will either show in your work, or it will come up to bite you,” she says. “If you want to do this work well, while also maintaining your own well-being and mental health, it’s important to practice that self-care.”

In the future, Pratt says she wants to continue working with the homeless population. “Working with the homeless population has changed my perspective on my career,” she says. “There’s something I find personally very rewarding about being able to provide services to those who have no means of accessing them. I really want to keep working with this population, and being an advocate for them.”