As a full-time professor, I’m no longer just a support within the system, I’m helping to shape it...
As a registered psychotherapist and full-time professor in Cambrian College’s Child and Youth Care program, Robert Montgomery is focused on fostering positive change for youth, families and care-givers.
Employed at Sudbury’s Child and Family Centre as a mental health clinician and therapist before joining the college on a full-time basis in 2014, Montgomery didn’t anticipate that he would take on a direct role shaping the future generation of child and youth care practitioners. “As a full-time professor, I’m no longer just a support within the system, I’m helping to shape it,” he observes. Montgomery is also contributing to global discussions about best practices as he completes his Master of Science degree in Child and Youth Care Studies through the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
In the field, Montgomery worked with children and youth who are coping with significant mental health and behavioural challenges, as well as their families and care-givers. He says that balancing 30 or more cases per year could be a tricky at times, but he entered the profession because he wanted to help people more than anything else. He has kind, warm eyes and a calm, soothing demeanor — qualities that keep his students at ease and could defuse stressful situations that he encountered while doing casework. “Frustrations can build to a crescendo, but it’s my role to give students all the tools they need to keep their clients and themselves calm,” he says. “In the program, students do a lot of self-reflection. Everyone is on their own journey, and once students recognize that, it helps them to develop patience, perspective and understanding.”
Teaching students to become child and youth care practitioners is very rewarding, Montgomery says. He encourages them to find their own ways of approaching the job. “My role is to show students all of the tools. I tell them that ‘you can’t do it the same way that I do; you have your own personality and style, and you need to develop the approaches that work best for you and your clients.” As a therapist and as a professor, Montgomery relies on humour and draws upon analogies to communicate. “If you’re going to work in this field, you have to be able to connect with your clients, while maintaining a strong sense of self, which includes rational detachment and a strong understanding of the fundamentals of evidence-informed practice. You’re working with youth who are struggling or may be in crisis and have significant emotional and/or family issues. They are reaching out for support and guidance at a very vulnerable time.” In these moments, he says workers “need to act as a guide, not dictate a destination. Our clients need to discover their own path at their own pace.”
Montgomery graduated from Cambrian College in 1999 with a three-year Advanced Child and Youth Worker diploma. He also has a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in psychology, from Laurentian University, and credits this combination for his career success. “I gained a great theoretical background with my degree, but I was missing that hands-on experience,” he explains. “My real passion for the field was also sparked in college through an inspiring professor, as well as my placement experience.”
Today, Montgomery hopes to spark that passion in his students. “To be able to help shape and guide the next generation of therapists, and child and youth care practitioners , can only help build stronger families and communities,” he says. “I also enjoy learning from the students. If I’m not learning as much as I’m teaching, then something is wrong.”
He also recognizes the urgent need for talented professionals to enter the field. “Youth mental health is the biggest challenge in our society right now and needs to be addressed. One in three youth will experience some form of mental health issue at some point in their lifetime,” Montgomery says. He believes steadfastly in his work, and whether he is helping one student or one client at a time, Montgomery hopes he is making a difference.