December 2, 2023

A new mental health centre operated by Acadia University counselling students has opened to the public with the goal of providing free and equitable access to underserved communities in the Annapolis Valley. 

The Red Spruce Mental Health Centre soft launched two locations, one at Willett House on Acadia’s Wolfville campus and one at the Red Door Sexual Health Centre in Kentville, N.S., in September. 

Both locations are operated by students of the university’s masters in education counselling program, who are supervised by a faculty member, a centre co-ordinator or a peers who is further along in the program.

Tanya Surette, the program co-ordinator, said a student-operated mental health centre has been a dream 30 years in the making.

She said it gives counselling students a place to complete their practicum without needing to travel beyond the Annapolis Valley.

“We’re the only in-person graduate counselling program in Nova Scotia and so often our students would come in and then need to relocate for their practical hours in various locations across the province,” Surette told Information Morning Halifax.

Four people stand together for a photo in front of a leafy green backdrop.
The Red Spruce Mental Health Centre is co-ordinated by counselling faculty at Acadia University, including, from left, Tanya Surette, Ahlam Rahal, Kelly Brenton and Birdie Bezanson. (Submitted by Robyn McBain/Acadia University)

She said this wasn’t always feasible, given the provincial housing crisis and increased cost of living, so it caused an inequity in students’ development as counsellors. 

But this new centre will now allow students to complete their practicum within their communities, she said, while also helping address the lack of mental health care and long wait times facing people in rural areas, like the Annapolis Valley. 

Erin Gaudet, who is in her final year of the program, has been working at a local high school and the centre to complete her practicum.

She said she’s grateful for the opportunity to work out of the Red Door in Kentville, especially since they previously didn’t offer counselling services.

“Having this as part of my practicum has been really valuable because it gives me some insight into what community-based counselling can look like, as opposed to school-based counselling which is quite self-contained within a school,” she said. 

Gaudet said the centre also eliminates a barrier for people living in rural areas of the Annapolis Valley who may not have transportation to travel to Halifax for mental health care.

“This partnership is really important to bring mental health services to a community that may be underserved or may be unable to access services in a rural setting,” she said.

The same goes for students who would have to travel into Halifax to complete their practicum, she said.

Students learn from clients

Surette said the students are well-prepared by the time they start working with the public, and they’re able to help with symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, relationship difficulties, grief and loss.

She said students are not providing trauma processing work for clients who may require longer-term therapy, but they can offer connections to other resources. 

“They’re learning from their greatest teachers, which are their clients, but they’re also developing this identity that really experiences the importance of accessible mental health care,” she said.

“Our belief and our hope is that they’ll take that with them when they graduate and engage with the profession throughout their lifespan, really understanding the value and the importance of providing socially just and equitable counselling services and meeting the needs of their community.”

Information Morning – NS9:08Community mental health centre opening at Acadia University

Featured VideoThe Red Spruce Mental Health Centre recently opened its doors to students at Acadia University. Soon they’ll extend services to the public as well. Professor Tanya Surette tells us more about their free, student-run counselling service.

Surette said the campus location is currently open to Acadia University students, while the Red Door location is taking clients from the public aged 13-30, one day a week.

She said both locations are expected to be fully operational by early 2024.

“As we grow, we hope to discover other partnerships where we can be embedded to really improve access to mental health care for folks who don’t have it otherwise,” she said.


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