The Change-Up: A good listener

Allyson Kenning
Allyson Kenning, BA ’98, says having good communication skills is essential as a peer support worker, and her writing degree laid the foundation for that.

We profile UVic alumni who recently made a bold life change.

UVic writing grad Allyson Kenning’s lived experience with the mental-health system helps her create unique connections with the people she assists as a peer support worker.

Name: Allyson Kenning
Age: Rapidly approaching Ye Olde Middle Age (OK, I’m 48).
Hometown: Rossland, BC, and currently living in my suburban lair in Delta, BC.
UVic degree: Bachelor of Arts in Fine Arts/Writing, 1998.

What I used to be: Chapters retail slave, small town newspaper reporter and columnist, cook and baker.

Then I had the idea to: become a mental health peer support worker.

Why I did it: I was inspired to do this by a friend of mine who trained as a peer support worker, and she thought I might be good at it. So, I found training in my area (I was living in Surrey at the time) and completed that, and was hired on in March 2015 by Communitas Supportive Care Society as a part-time peer support worker. I am now an assistant program manager for Communitas’ Peer Support Program, and I work in the Fraser Health Authority.

How I did it: I have had a long history with depression and anxiety, and have been in and out of mental-health systems and hospitals since my teen years. All those experiences turned out to have value, since peer support workers share their experiences and stories with the people they support, and it’s that lived experience with a mental-health diagnosis and the mental-health system that helps us create unique connections with the people we support.

What I love about my new life: As a writer, I love hearing people’s stories! Every single last person I have worked with over the years has some kind of story behind them that is inspiring and worthy of hearing. I would love to write some of them down, in fact, but confidentiality policies make that hard. Also, before I became a PSW, I lived on disability income for many years—all of them well under the poverty line—and that changed my world view in so many ways, but I am happy to say I am working full time in this field and no longer live on assistance.

What I miss about my old life: Not much at all, actually. I was under-employed a lot before, and this job makes me feel successful, productive and valued.

One lesson learned: There are so many psychological pros to working full time. I never thought I would ever work full time again and be able to provide for myself in the way I do now. The biggest boon of having this job is that I no longer spend hours in my head ruminating about life or having all kinds of existential crises, wherein I would question my value as a person and find myself coming up short. I don’t have time for that anymore!

One person who helped me: Shout out to my friend Tara W. who blazed the trail for me, and to my coordinator, Patrick R., who has mentored me a lot along the way.

One trade secret: I’m not sure what secrets there are to what I do, but I will say that having good communication skills, both written and verbal, are very important, and I feel like my writing degree laid the foundation for that.