Counselors supporting families

Posted: March 29th, 2021

Mental health is crucial to our wellbeing, but accessing supports for mental health can be overwhelming, especially for young people.

Where do you begin? What should you expect? What should you even talk about? And how does it work?

For Tikinagan Child & Family Services, a Children’s Aid Society that serves children, youth, and families from 30 First Nations in Northwestern Ontario, mental health is just as important as physical health.

The organization has a team of counselors who support children and youth through life’s transitions.

Karla Fuentes, Clinical Counseling Supervisor at Tikinagan, says struggles with mental health are common and there are people who can help.

“Counselors are good listeners who will not judge you or your loved ones,” says Fuentes. “When you talk to them, they will respect your feelings and thoughts. People in general meet with counselors and therapists for two reasons: maybe they have a dream or a goal and they don’t know how to achieve it, or maybe they have a problem and they need help fixing it.”

Bruce Eisener, a counselor at Tikinagan, uses a technique that looks at how thoughts, behaviour, and emotions are related. How you think about an event will affect how you feel about it, and ultimately, how you respond to it, he says.

“Imagine you’re thinking about going skating for the first time. If you think skating is dangerous, you will likely be afraid to skate and avoid skating. If you think skating will be fun, you will likely be excited to try skating, and will go to the rink and give it a try.”

“In counseling, we [get people] to look at their automatic responses and thoughts, and challenge them with alternate thoughts. If we can change the thought, we can change the feeling and behaviour.”

Help with mental health doesn’t have to look like a sit-down meeting with a counselor. Tikinagan offers art therapy, for example, to help children and youth express and understand their emotions.

Art Therapy addresses social and emotional difficulties and encourages healing through creative expression, such as music, movement, drama, poetry/writing, playing, and mindfulness. It can help in developing coping skills and social skills, self-awareness, and self-esteem.

Chelsey Greig, the Tikinagan counselor who gets to connect with kids and youth during art therapy, says self-care is more important than ever during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Other difficulties might have arisen that weren’t there before, and perhaps you’re not able to do certain hobbies or interests,” says Greig. “During this time, even I have to remind myself to check in with how I’m doing.”

“How I am feeling? What can I do to self-care today? How can I release any energies I might be holding inside?”

Greig recommends children and youth practice different skills that can help check in with mind, body, and soul. She suggests that it helps if you can practice these skills with someone – a friend, guardian, therapist, or counselor.

But if you need help getting started, many games, movements, and creative expressions can be practiced online or over the phone with a counselor.

Some tips to get started on creative expressions from Tikinagan counselors include:

  • Be mindful of the space you are in. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel?
  • Acknowledge your feelings and where you might feel it in your body. Tell yourself that it is okay to have these emotions and look for a healthy coping skill or person to help.
  • Remember to breathe. Open up your chest and take deep breaths in through your nose and breathe out through your mouth. Sometimes I like to imagine breathing in a calming colour.
  • We hold energies in our bodies and movement can be the quickest way to release those energies, such as dancing or running on the spot. You can listen to your favourite music at the same time.
  • Another way to release energies is to create. Scribble on a piece of paper or grab a colouring book. Create art without intentions. Create art for fun. Everyone is an artist. Maybe try writing afterwards. It could be one word, many words, a title, a name, or a poem.
  • Create eco-art. When you go out for walks you can use pieces of nature (that are already on the ground) to create a mandala, symbol or image. Or simply sit in nature with a friend or guardian and enjoy the scene.
  • Start your day with an affirmation and remind yourself of this affirmation until the end of the day: “I am creative. Infinite creative energies flow through me.”
  • Take care of yourself. You are your best resource.

To learn more about Tikinagan, visit tikinagan.org.

If you live in northwestern Ontario and require immediate support, visit nanhope.ca, for 24/7 help over the phone, by text, or online chat.