TSTC Chemical Dependency Counseling Student Teaches Inmates Life Skills

(BROWNWOOD) – Offenders in the Texas prison system sometimes are the forgotten ones who need a guide to find a path toward personal fulfillment.

But people like Norma Vandenberg, a Chemical Dependency Counseling major at Texas State Technical College in Brownwood, are there to teach the life skills they need.

“We do not tell people how to live,” she said. “We help them find better coping skills and how to make better choices.”

Vandenberg, a resident of Dublin in Erath County, is doing a summer practicum in substance abuse and addiction counseling at the Thomas R. Havins Unit in Brownwood. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice pre-release facility holds more than 575 male inmates.

“I teach classes that help the addict understand addiction, anger management, and understanding mental illness and how it mimics addiction,” Vandenberg said. “I also do individual counseling and group counseling and assessments as new clients come in.”

Elizabeth Jones, an instructor in TSTC’s Chemical Dependency Counseling program, said people working in treatment at the Havins Unit are chosen by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. She said a majority of the facility’s counselors are TSTC graduates.

“Norma has the discipline and dedication because of her past career as a nurse,” Jones said. “She is following the guidelines that I tried to establish concerning ethics, professionalism and establishing good boundaries with clients.”

Vandenberg is scheduled to graduate in August with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling from TSTC. Program majors learn about criminology, individual and group counseling skills, and substance-related and addictive disorders.

“I enjoyed school and learning new things and new challenges,” she said.

Vandenberg grew up in Worthington, Minnesota, and is a graduate of Worthington High School She studied nursing at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

“I worked with women recovering from addiction and enjoyed the work,” she said. “I enjoy helping people. I am burned out with nursing, and CDC is still in the medical field.”

After graduation from TSTC, Vandenberg will work full-time at the Havins Unit as a certified criminal justice addiction professional.

Jones said program graduates also go on to work in Austin, Belton, Dallas, San Angelo and San Antonio. She said the Chemical Dependency Counseling program has been used by graduates to work on bachelor’s degrees in nursing, psychology and social work.

“We receive compliments on our students from the program director (at the Havins Unit), and I have received phone calls asking me when I would be graduating students because the Havins Unit was short-staffed on counselors,” said Jones. “Our program lays the foundation for understanding the disease of addiction, and this understanding can be beneficial to all career paths associated with allied health.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.