Beginnings of Bellwood: Wendy’s Story

Staff Interview by EHN Writer

In celebration of Bellwood’s 35th anniversary.

Wendy Cope never intended to be an addiction counsellor.

With her father suffering from alcohol addiction, Wendy had a dysfunctional childhood. Wendy recalls living in constant fear of her father’s reaction to anything she said or did. She remembers tense, silent dinner times and family arguments in the basement of her childhood home. Considering this upbringing, Wendy was not surprised she went into clinical psychology. Wendy explained that her early role as a “hero child” made Wendy overly responsible, always ready to help and protect others. 

After her training, Wendy began working at a juvenile detention centre, and then a family court clinic. She was offered a job completing patient assessments for addiction research when she moved to Toronto. Already aware of the potential triggers of this job, Wendy made a deal with herself: to work in the field for six months, and if the job is too personally painful, she would leave.

But she never left addiction work.

During her work in research, Dr. Gordon Bell was gathering his foundational team for his new facility on McNicoll Avenue. Wendy’s reputation as a patient advocate caught Dr. Bell’s attention and he recruited her to be part of his team. 

Wendy remembers the frenzy, fervour, and anticipation involved in getting the facility ready to see its first patients. Wendy played a role in managing staff and oversaw the intake and admissions processes. The staff eagerly awaited Bellwood’s first cohort of patients, ready to help them get better. She recalls with amusement the constant questions of “did anyone call yet?” that rang through the halls of the building. 

When the first patient arrived, an entire team of staff was dedicated to this one person, which still makes Wendy chuckle. She wonders to this day what this patient must have thought, having so many eager people’s full attention solely on her. Wendy is grateful for conversations with  potential clients, because each interaction presents an opportunity for what she calls a “therapeutic moment.” Even if someone calls Bellwood and never speaks with us again, Wendy asserts, we should take advantage of each moment as a catalyst for positive change. 

After working at Bellwood, Wendy went on to work at another facility that has since closed. Linda Bell invited her back to Bellwood, affirming that “if you’re ever able to come back to us, we would love to have you.” Wendy’s experience working in Bellwood’s programs is diverse. Throughout the years, Wendy has worked with admissions and intake, and as a group therapist, progressing to clinical manager, and manager of outpatient care. She then worked in the Concurrent Trauma and Addiction Program, growing her clinical expertise along the way. Today, Wendy is coming into her 40th year as a counsellor.

Today, Wendy enjoys working in the outpatient program. She speaks regularly with clients who have resistance to the idea of residential treatment. To address this problem and help people transition into the best program for their needs, Wendy loves to use motivational interviewing. Wendy recalls that after one interview with a client—a man with a 19-year history of substance use—his mother admitted that Wendy is the only person her son is willing to talk to. This client, according to Wendy, was perfect for the residential program, but he was highly reluctant to physically enter rehab. 

After gaining the man’s trust, Wendy bargained with him, “if you’re able to remain off the drug, you can do the [Intensive Outpatient Program.]” Motivated to meet his end of the bargain, the man maintained 2.5 months of abstinence. Although she hasn’t spoken with him since, when asked what she would say to the man if she could ever talk to him again, Wendy says she would emphasize to this man his strength and power in sustaining sobriety for 2.5 months, and that this inner strength is available to him again when he needs it. Over her lengthy career at Bellwood, Wendy has helped countless people find their inner strength while recovering from addiction. 

Thank you for supporting us and helping us grow over the past 35 years. We look forward to serving our community for many more decades to come!