My name is Tara McCaffery, and I have been working as a Regional Educator with BCSS for the past three years.

My interest in the field of mental health began as a personal one. Like many living with mental illness, people may not be aware that I have suffered from anxiety since childhood. When I left my hometown to go to university, the stress of being away from family, friends, and people I knew added to my struggle with university curriculum and amplified my anxiety to a debilitating level. I wasn’t able to attend classes and would spend time just sitting in a bathroom stall, too afraid to be around people. Eventually, I was not able to continue my education, but had nobody around me who understood or took an interest in what was happening to me.

I was at an all-time low. It was at this point, when I was not spending time with friends and no longer in university, that I decided to speak to a therapist. This changed my life—not overnight, of course, as it has been a long, hard, constant battle but I made great strides.

Because I sought support, I completed a BA in Psychology, an MA in Counselling Psychology, and became a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional with the International Association of Trauma Professionals. I have learned to love and accept myself and be open with my friends about how I am feeling, and the struggles I have experienced. Now, I find it therapeutic to offer people therapy and support for mental illness and health issues through my work.

I have family who suffer from anxiety and addiction, and now it is my turn to tell them about my journey so that I may help them along with theirs. Hopefully, I can help them see that things can improve and find hope in the future.

During my time with BCSS, I have completed my schooling and have accepted a position through the Provincial Health Services Authority to be a Mental Health and Addictions Supervisor within a men’s correctional centre. I have experienced mental illness from the perspective of a patient, a family member, and now as a mental health professional. I believe each of these individual experiences equally contributes to my ability to be an effective therapist and educator.

I have found that my two roles—as a therapist within a correctional facility and as a BCSS Regional Educator—are complementary to each other. I am supporting family members who have loved ones in the criminal justice system, and with my knowledge and connections, I have been able to provide them with comfort and information.

But there exists a huge gap within our provincial correctional facilities that BCSS programs may help fill. At the beginning of 2020, I provided lunch and learn Strengthening Families Together (SFT) sessions to correctional officers and facilitated SFT sessions with inmates. Currently, I am offering inmates who have completed SFT training the opportunity to volunteer with myself and a member of corrections as peer mentors for fellow inmates who may be struggling due to mental illness. I am also in the middle of developing a program to conduct Partnership Education Presentations with inmates for correctional officers.

These initiatives will help facilitate better responses and understanding on the part of family members, friends, fellow inmates, and staff at correctional facilities. I hope to bring these opportunities to other provincial centres in collaboration with fellow BCSS Regional Educators around BC. With the support of PHSA and Corrections BC, I look forward to being part of how BCSS grows to meet this need and continue to help bridge this gap.