When Jean Erasmus trained with Indigenous Health Services she had one burning question.
“I asked them how many Indigenous counsellors there were in all three territories and they told me there were 54 counsellors, and I was the only indigenous one working with residential school survivors and their families and I thought ‘wow okay, there’s a need here,’” Erasmus said.
Soon after, that number doubled to two counsellors north of 60 when her husband Roy Erasmus received his counselling designation.
The pair had already successfully operated their own counselling business Dene Wellness for a few years when they decided to approach the same institution that trained them, Rhodes Wellness College, in Vancouver.
Jean and Roy’s positive educational experience at Rhodes prompted them to want the delivery of the same program in the NWT to train Indigenous 25 students.
The president of Rhodes remembered the dynamic duo and also saw the need for training in the N.W.T.
Jean applauded the experiential application in all six of the program’s courses, something she found to differ from other post-secondary counselling diplomas.
“It’s all experience, you are learning all the concepts of counselling, coaching and group facilitation. Next thing you know you are using your experiences with all sorts of things, physical, mental, spiritual and emotional wellness and incorporate all those teachings in your learning,” she said.
Roy Erasmus cited “transformational healing,” as unintended yet welcomed result during his time at Rhodes.
“I basically had to learn how to cry. Through this process, I did and that’s amazing,” Roy said.
Jean said she believes training heathier counsellors will help curb burnout and high turnover rates amongst counsellors in remote northern communities.
“If you’ve done the work on yourself you aren’t going to be triggered. You’re going to know what to do amd will have gone through that trauma,” Jean said.
The program will be comprised of six, three month semesters with the first four semesters taking place in Yellowknife and the remaining delivered at the Rhodes Wellness College Campus where students will round out their diploma by completing practicums in a clinical setting.
Roy said graduates of the program are registered under the Professional Counsellors Association of Canada, giving the students a wider array of job opportunities than without the designation.
“There are various position with the territorial government right now, such as wellness counsellors in each community, and in each elementary and secondary school across the N.W.T.,” Roy said.
Roy and Jean have been holding virtual open house for potential students over the last few weeks.
They said there is interest in the program and participation during the Zoom meet ups has been outstanding, with individuals from across the territory sharing their background and motive for applying to increase the number of Indigenous counselors in the N.W.T.