When asked in which area they would like to deepen their knowledge, counsellors with Ilisaqsivik’s mobile trauma response team chose addictions, as well as self-care.
“Obviously counsellors are seeing a lot of things with addictions out there, and want more training on that. Also, they need self-care because the demand on our services is so high that we are really burning out, and it’s tough to meet demand. It’s especially tough to meet demand. It’s always increasing, especially as people become more aware of our services,” said Ilisaqsivik executive director Malcolm Ranta.
Facilitators Kate Roach and Richard Donison of Northern Counselling and Therapeutic Services (NCTS) led the session from Nov. 13 to 18 in Clyde River, which was attended by counsellors from several Baffin communities. Seven counsellors came from outlying communities and eight reside in Clyde River.
“Ilisaqsivik and Northern Counselling have had a strong relationship over the past number of years,” said Ranta.
Counsellor coordinator Jerry Natanine ensures the coordination of the mobile response trauma unit when they answer a call from a community which needs their services.
Natanine says there isn’t addictions-specific programming available at Ilisaqsivik, however, the centre has full-time counsellors available. Ranta notes Ilisaqsivik doesn’t have the capacity or space to do this work.
“So, currently, you’ll be sent south,” said Ranta.
However, counsellors are always available, and they work remotely with other communities by phone, over Facebook or using other platforms.
The goal of the November workshop was to ensure counsellors could better address addictions.
“What we’re trying to do here is incorporate traditional knowledge about an issue, in this case addictions and the things that come when a person is addicted to something. We try to get the modern day way of treating and identifying addictions, and how we can incorporate the two, and take the best of both worlds. We try to figure out how best to use it (modern clinical approaches) in our culture.”
The counsellors explored different kinds of addiction, how it affects lives, and the steps that can be taken to alleviate and support clients who are addicted, said Natanine.
“The addictions most prevalent in our region are alcohol and drugs. So a lot of it was about alcohol and drugs, and how when we first start getting addicted we ignore the signs and we don’t realize how we’re getting addicted until it’s too late,” said Natanine.
Bureaucratic red tape gets in the way of healing
Counsellors also discussed how hard it is to manage referrals for treatment in the south.
“We explored some of the hardship we face, and how to make it easier,” said Natanine.
“In the communities, the mental health workers and psychologists that come up regularly change. One month we might get a certain person, the following month or two months after we might get another person. The changing of these people really hinders the process of a person who wants to go to rehab, because there are a number of visits required with the mental health worker.”
Natanine says it doesn’t matter how many visits a client has made to Ilisaqsivik counsellors – the visits to a mental health worker are what count to qualify for a referral to treatment.
“Often time, they’ll start the process, then in the middle of the process they (mental health worker) change, a new one comes in and the client still has to visit the same amount of times with the one who is (now) there. And should that one change, the whole thing just keeps going like that.”
The process – starting over again with each mental health worker – can be traumatizing for the client.
“It’s hard to get over that red tape,” said Natanine.
Ranta adds it’s also tough for clients beyond the bureaucratic process.
“It’s tough being away from your community. It’s tough being away from your family. It’s tough not receiving treatment in your first language. Those are all reasons why it’s so important that this new treatment centre goes ahead in Iqaluit that the Quality of Life division is working towards right now,” Ranta said.
“The language is so, so important, especially in every community outside of Iqaluit.”
After-care was also an important topic.
“How for people coming back from treatment centres and healing facilities … what else we can do to support them, to keep them growing on their path of healing from the addiction and healing from trauma that a lot of us here in the Arctic have faced and are facing, and how to recognize how people are affected by different historical traumas.”
Historical traumas include residential school, tuberculosis treatment, and colonization in general.
Ilisaqsivik, which offers numerous land programs, is also discussing adopting a Cambridge Bay addictions program model.
“Land programs is one of the mainstays of Ilisaqsivik and something we excel at delivering. We’ve definitely delivered many different programs for healing, for learning, and everything in between. We’ve talked about potentially adopting a model out of Cambridge Bay for an addictions land program. But when you take on programs like that, you have to make sure you have the capacity,” said Ranta.
Ilisaqsivik now counts 33 counsellors who have graduated from the accredited, five-module counsellor training program called Our Life’s Journey. The program was developed over 10 years with Life Works Counselling and Training Services Inc.
“And more than 130 individuals have taken the courses (some modules) from communities across Nunavut – mostly Baffin,” said Ranta.
“There are Ilisaqsivik counsellors in most Baffin communities. The reach has been good. Now it’s a matter of getting them graduated.”