Dr. Serena Wadhwa

Addiction Counselor

Serena Wadhwa is a leading Addiction Counselor and a tenured track assistant professor and program coordinator at Governors State University.  Addiction Counseling is a cause close to Serena's heart as she first became interested in the subject when one her friends became addicted to heroin. Serena wanted to understand and help her friend so she took an addiction course and  she was fascinated by the subject and went on to pursue a career in addiction counseling.

Addiction counseling is a branch of mental health that focuses on those struggling with addictions. While this may be an overlooked, or at least under reported area of mental health, there are patients that struggle every day with the impact their addictions have on their lives.  That's where Serena Wadhwa and Addiction Counseling comes in.

Tell us about your education at Illinois School of Professional Psychology. What was the total timeline for you to complete undergrad through Doctorate? How long did it take to become a certified clinical professional counselor? Certified addictions counselor?

Let me start by saying that I did not go through school all in one stretch.  I took a couple years off here and there. I went to undergraduate school for two years and then it took me three years to get back to school. Then I completed my BA and MA in Counseling at U of I in Springfield. When I completed that degree, I decided to move and ended up in Chicago, mainly because I had the opportunity to transfer jobs. I was at that job for a year and then decided to go back to school and pursue a doctorate. I applied to Ph.D schools and when I was rejected by all of them.   When I  asked what the reasons were I was told that I wanted a Psy.D., not a Ph.D. I applied to ISPP and was accepted. It was the only Psy.D. program I applied to.

I had been a certified addictions counselor since about 1997. I went through the COD program and it took me a few years to get everything together, but once I did, the process was smooth. As far as the licensed professional counselor, I obtained it in 2007, after realizing that I can apply for it since I had the hours. So I passed the exam the same year I completed my doctorate.

How did you first become interested in counseling? How did you end up as an addictions counselor? What caused you to select that niche versus other avenues?

It started with a friend of mine who became addicted to heroin and I didn't understand how that was so much more important than a friendship. When I came home for a period of time, I took an intro to addictions course that fascinated me and decided to pursue that certificate. While I've tried a couple of times to pursue other avenues, only those opportunities in addictions/counseling presented themselves. I believe it's a place I'm meant to be.

What was the hardest part of your education process? Did you have any setbacks, challenges, or epiphanies along the way?

Of course! During my doctorate training there was a moment where I wasn't sure I was going to be able to finish and doubted if I was in the right field. I ended up not only writing a piece on this that was published, but learned quite a bit about myself and some of the "realities" that are out there. Writing the dissertation was challenging as well, but once it was completed, it was so worth it!

Tell us about your work at the Governors State University Addiction Studies program. You are adjunct faculty at other institutions as well; how did you get involved? What are some of the greatest accomplishments thus far?

I applied for the tenured track position three times before getting this appointment. I think I usually give something three chances to see how it's going to go and then realize it's not meant to be if it doesn't work out. At GSU, I am a tenured track assistant professor and program coordinator for the addiction counseling concentration. Through there, I learned about another opportunity to teach as an adjunct faculty and submitted my information. I then went back to the college I obtained my addictions training in and after being interviewed, they agreed to hire me as an adjunct.

In some respects, these are my greatest accomplishments, as the academic world is very different from clinical practice. I also work for a hospital, where I just celebrated 10 years, as an outpatient therapist. So I'm able to apply my education and teach others. It's a great balance for me. I also write, present and provide consultation services. Professionally, I'm where I dreamed of.

What aspects of your education and training have been most crucial to your success? Give us some examples of the day to day processes you maintain as a faculty member, addictions counselor, researcher.

I think the main piece was pursuing every opportunity that was made available to me early in my career.  Attending anything I was invited to,  applying to countless places to present, write or be interviewed help me to achieve my success. Establishing and maintaining my professional relationships are also important. Pursuing anything of interest to me, anything that I was and still am passionate about. Additionally, having fun as much as I work is crucial. It cannot be one or the other, so maintaining that balance is key.

Who/what are some of your biggest influences? Any recommendations of authors, speakers, or experts you suggest to follow for folks interested in counseling as a career?

Mark Sanders really helped me in developing my presentation skills. He has had more faith in me than I did sometimes and always believed I have a lot to offer. He's been my mentor and friend for about 10 years now.

I don't know any authors, speakers or experts per se, but what I can suggest is that if there is someone who really speaks to you, follow them. This is not an easy place in the beginning and even down the road there are bumps, so having someone who believes in you or that you believe in what they say, can be very comforting and inspiring. I like Les Brown, Brene Brown, and energizing/inspiring presenters.

Do you intend of furthering your education at the degree level? Can you give examples of the industry research you have performed and how you got involved? What are you working on currently and why?

Degree-wise, no, as I have a doctorate. I am currently pursuing an online teaching and learning certificate, as I believe education will be more online in the future, so having that will be a worthy marketing skill. I have done some research in the areas of media communication, as this fascinates me, as well as some writing courses; however, pursuing another degree is not quite in the picture. At least at the time I write this. I have enough on my plate, as I want to finish two books I am working on and a book chapter for publication. Plus I've got blogs I want to spend more time creating.

If you could go back in time and choose to do your education all over again would you choose the same path?

YES.

Any final words for the future counselors who are reading this?

Yes, follow your passion as it's well worth the rewards. Take advantage of any opportunities (that are safe) that come your way and if you're not sure about something, ask, ask, ask! Have people in your professional network that you can connect with. I am happy to help anyone out, and I'm on LinkedIn and Twitter. Just let me know where you found my name and I can try to help in any way I can. Sometimes I can't, although I may be able to provide a suggestion or two. And by all means, take care of yourself. Balance is key.

You can learn more about Serena by following her on Twitter.