A safer space for help

U of W’s new counselling centre opens

Historically, the University of Winnipeg’s (U of W) Counselling Centre has been understaffed and inappropriately located, but that changed on Sept. 14.

It used to be a couple of offices in Ashdown Hall that had no waiting area. Then, it was in a corner of the RecPlex.

“Last year, it was in fact lobbying of the students and student groups that kind of demanded more services for students,” Jan Byrd, executive director of wellness and student life at U of W, says.

Byrd says the university acknowledged the need for more staff and space. It created the new centre on the main floor of the Duckworth Centre.

“We wanted to have a safe space that was easy to access and that students were comfortable coming to,” Byrd says. And that’s what they got.

Byrd says the team doesn’t just want to help students during a crisis. They also want to be able to do preventative and proactive work. With the new staff, that should be possible.

There are now three full-time counsellors and a psychologist. Five graduate students from the Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program are working in the centre as well as two mental health clinicians from the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre.

There is also an addictions counsellor, but it’s not just for people who label themselves addicts. 

“It could be for anybody who just wants to talk about their use of substance,” Byrd says.

In all, there will be 12 people working different shifts in the centre, including evenings and weekends.

Byrd says there are few issues that staff would not be able to help someone with, but if something came up, they would work with the student to get them the help they need.

They also work closely with nurse practitioners from Klinic Community Health. Byrd says when someone is struggling with mental health issues there can also be physical health concerns.

“We want to see the student as a whole person and work with them towards wellness in a holistic way,” Byrd says.

The counsellors will provide one-on-one, couples, family and group counselling. 

Group therapy sessions will likely start next semester. The need seems to be for groups on anxiety and body image, but counsellors are open to other suggestions from students.

“We try to be as responsive as we can to student needs,” Byrd says. “We keep statistics of what are the main presenting issues.”

The centre was not fully set up on Sept. 14. Boxes were left packed and the bathroom did not have a lock. Still, Byrd says students were responding positively to the new space.

“It feels different than it did last year and even the year before because you can walk in and have some privacy,” Byrd says.

Students told Byrd they would be telling their friends it is a safe space to go.

“Students should reach out. We want to be here to help them,” Byrd says. And with all the new staff, she says they will be able to do that.

Published in Volume 70, Number 3 of The Uniter (September 24, 2015)

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