Courtesy Kanesatake Health Center
Kanehsata’kehró:non struggling with their mental health have somewhere new to turn for professional help.
The Kanesatake Health Center (KHC) has announced it is launching a psychotherapy service for those dealing with depression, anxiety, anger, or even just a difficult situation or troubled relationship.
“There is a great need for enhanced mental health services in Kanesatake for adults and youth,” said executive director Teiawenhniseráhte Tomlinson. “It’s a service that can be very difficult to access due to high demand and also the language barrier in Quebec.”
Three licensed mental health professionals, all members of Quebec’s professional order for psychology, will provide counselling for a total of six days a month at the KHC clinic.
“It often carries a stigma, making it difficult for someone to decide to take the leap and consult, and I understand that. I’ve been there. So if offering the service close to home can help make it just a bit easier, more accessible, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Tomlinson.
Psychotherapy will be free for clients and will be covered by the Non-Insured Health Benefits program (NIHB), which provides coverage to First Nations people and Inuit. According to Tomlinson, the rates for psychotherapy paid out by the program in Quebec are the lowest nationally, making it difficult to find therapists willing to participate.
While the program will have a budgetary impact for KHC, the expense is well worth it, Tomlinson said.
“An investment in mental health is imperative. There’s a lot of healing to do, and mental health is an integral part of it,” he said.
The new service will be achieved largely through a partnership with the West Island Therapy and Wellness Centre (WITC), which will provide mental health services to individuals of all ages, couples, and families.
“Our staff have expertise in treating anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, loss and bereavement, phobias, and many other areas,” said WITC co-director and psychologist Yaniv Elharrar.
“We aim to offer a safe, confidential, culturally-sensitive, and nurturing environment for our clients,” he added.
Community member Pamela Gabriel-Ferland, who is herself a licensed therapist and social worker, agrees with the importance of making psychotherapy available to Kanehsata’kehró:non and encourages those who are unsure to give it a try, even if just to have their questions answered.
“If you are suffering, reach out,” she said. “There are good people with good hearts who want to listen and support you.”
While Gabriel-Ferland believes talk therapy administered by licensed professionals can be beneficial for many who are suffering from poor mental health, she is concerned that a lot of people who could benefit will not consider using the service due to a lack of faith in local institutions.
“Kanesatake needs to rebuild trust and safety between the people and leaders – health, social, political, etc. – so that people will want to, and feel safe, using the community services,” she said.
Gabriel-Ferland also emphasizes the importance of more culturally-relevant and traditional avenues to healing, such as circles and ceremonies, as an alternative or complement to talk therapy. “We need community healing. This has been my experience,” she said.
According to Tomlinson, the health centre envisions psychotherapy as just one arrow in the quiver when it comes to wellness.
“With this, we also want to continue investing in language and cultural revitalization as a means to increase community well-being,” he said. “This means the inclusion of this principle in the services we offer and the development of new programs that have a focus on our culture and identity as a means to become healthier.”
Kanehsata’kehró:non will be eligible to receive 22 hours of therapy a year through the service, which works out to 22 sessions annually.
“I’m quite pleased and excited to be able to offer this service here in Kanesatake,” said Tomlinson. “It is an important need that we are now able to start addressing – an important first step.”
Marcus is managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.