Life's a journey

For Bethany Good '94, RLC was the first step to the rest of her life. And then some.

By Glen Herbert

Whenever I ask alumni for memories from their time at RLC, the answers tend to fall into some fairly defined categories. There are the high jinks. (“There was this one time when …. “) There are the stories about hiding stuff in the woods. One alum at the 70s reunion talked about how he stashed a snowmobile in the forest and a canoe on the bank of the shadow river. If there was a gold medal for stashing stuff, he’d be wearing it. Hardships seed memories, too. The cold, the bugs, the wet, the effort, and how in the end it didn’t really matter all that much. It was all part of the shared experience, crystallizing a sense of belonging. And that’s what made it great.

Memories of teachers tend to be like that as well. Great memories, but with some barbs attached. When I recently asked Bethany Good '94 about her time at RLC, the memory that came first was one of those. “One pivotal moment that probably changed things for me,” she said, “was when my English teacher, Jocelyn Cornish, took me out of English in the middle of the class, walked me into the office, sat me down and said, ‘you need to stop screwing around. You're smart. And you're capable.’” Bethany had been disruptive, acting out. “It was that moment—just to have someone who I respected, even if it didn't seem that way in the classroom—that made it so clear. It sort of shocked me. I really thought I was in a lot of trouble. I wasn't expecting a compliment.”

"I was a bit of a blond sheep."

Bethany arrived at Rosseau Lake College in 1989 and when I reached her by phone recently at her office at SickKids in Toronto, she was open about the push factors at that time in her life. She says that Academic settings were never a place of strength, and she wasn’t meeting with any kind of success. “There was no expectation among any adults in my life that I would end up with a doctorate in anything.” Her home life was complicated, which was a factor. She had been adopted at 10 days of age into a family with three biological children. “I was a bit of a blond sheep,” she says. She looked different, she felt different, in some ways, she was different. “Not in bad ways, but in ways that were not expected. Including learning differences and energy. And so, from the get go, the visual difference for me it was really striking. And that led me to have a lot of additional feelings about being adopted.”

Perhaps related to that, relationships within the family were becoming strained. The move to RLC might have felt like a Hail Mary, but it worked. “It felt safe in a lot of ways, and it really strengthened my confidence in my abilities.” She arrived not long after it became co-ed. “It was very much like a boy’s school still,” she says, which wasn’t necessarily good or bad, it just was. Set apart from the restraints of urban life, the school allowed her the freedom to explore, room to reflect. “There are some memories I have of, like, on a weekend, a quiet Saturday or Sunday. It's springtime, everything starting to melt. The sun sort of glorious. And just being able to go on a on a bike, ride down highway 141.”

"I started noticing these trends ... "

There were lots of talks too. Bethany recalls one with Grade 13 student Sonya Fuhrmann when she perhaps first vocalized the idea that she wanted to be a psychologist. “She was like, Oh God, that's so much school. You don't want to do that.” But she did, and Fuhrmann was right. It was a lot of school. After high school, Bethany completed a bachelor’s of social work, then a master’s of social work. From there she took a position at SickKids that allowed her to gain experience with qualitative research. She built a practice, and she taught, ultimately within a residential treatment for kids who are very complex in terms of their needs. “I started noticing these trends of parents and kids getting into giant conflicts around technology," she says. "And it wasn’t the primary issue—there were other issues where kids were gravitating towards technology in a not so helpful way—but it was also clear that technology wasn’t going anywhere. So, I decided to pay attention to that. I applied for a PhD and focused on how service providers were using technology among youth who are more vulnerable. How residential treatment programs were contenting with technology use in kids who were coming into treatment.”

This past June she successfully defended her doctorate at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. It caps a CV that runs to 11 pages and chronicling a career spent working to better understand the relationship between youth and technology—particularly those who present with complex social issues and neurodevelopmental disorders—and to communicate key findings.

Helping and healing

Impressive as it is, the PhD isn’t necessarily the most impressive thing she’s done. The care is. When I ask her what she does, she says simply, “I’m a therapist.” “I always knew I wanted to be a helper and healer; I knew that was going to be a part of what I became as an adult.”

The research Bethany does is conducted primarily to inform the care that she’s able to give. When I ask her about what motivates her, what success looks like for her, she says, “when parents start feeling more capable helping their kids move past stuck places in their lives. Sometimes that’s 25-year-old kids and the parents are like ‘we really screwed up, and we need to do better now.’ Watching parents gain those skills and boundaries to support their kids effectively is incredibly heartwarming for me. With young kids, watching them navigate a severe depression and not lose their school year. And get out on the other end feeling really proud of themselves, making sense of who they are. Watching the progression of being so confused, and then gaining a real confidence of self. When I see that kind of thing, that definitely makes me think, oh my God, I really am in the right place.”

She’s done so much in her life, but as she speaks about it, it’s clear that, in some senses, she’s still that girl, sitting in a desk in Mrs. Cornish’s English class, just beginning to find her way. Of the doctorate, she says “I still sort of go, ‘Oh my God, I did it! Holy shit, I really did it.’” She really did.

And then there's this ...

We often talk about how coming to RLC is like finding family, and while Bethany didn’t know it at the time, for her that was literally true. A few years ago she took a DNA test through 23andMe, and in the results was a photo of a woman identified as a third cousin. There wasn’t a name given, but she recognized the face. It was Moore Housemate Sarah Holliday. “I immediately knew like, oh my God, that's a Holliday! And I messaged her and I said, um, so Bethany here.”

The DNA test was part of her personal journey. She had been connecting with her biological family, though the connection with Sarah opened other avenues. That journey continues, though as Bethany says, much of that is Sarah’s story to tell. “But, yeah, I’ve had a pretty cool passage,” she says.

From home, to school, to work, to family, she really has.

For two decades, Bethany Good's social work experience has focussed in youth and adult mental health, in both outpatient and residential treatment programs. She has worked at the SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health, formerly Hincks-Dellcrest Centre since 2005, during which time she provided family therapy, parent counselling, and individual therapy with children and adolescents. Bethany works from a relational and anti-oppressive client centred perspective. Her theoretical influences include Self Psychology, Relational Psychodynamics, Attachment, and Systems Theory. Her research focuses on how technology and new media use among children and adolescents is addressed by and integrated into social work practice.