Every year come late May, a purple sea of wild iris blooms spring forth from the marshy landscape surrounding the town of Sackville, New Brunswick – transforming what is regarded by some as an “eerie, creepy” vista, into a “lovely, magical” scene.
For Yorkville University Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology graduates Marie Reinsborough-Wadden and Krista Royama, it seemed only fitting then – symbolically speaking – to name their recently established private practice in Sackville after its metamorphic blooms.
“When we see that beauty and that gorgeous growth that springs out of the marsh, this rugged landscape, you can’t help but be sort of awed and inspired,” Reinsborough-Wadden said of the irises that appear outside her town of 5,331 every year.
“That sort of cheesy, lovely symbolism is what we were hoping for when you think about mental health, and the growth and beauty that can come from care and nurture and support.”
And so it was that Reinsborough-Wadden and Royama’s practice – which offers individual, family and group counselling for youth living alongside mental health issues – was born as IRIS Community Counselling & Consulting.
The pair’s journey to getting IRIS to where it is now, however, was one that began more than a decade ago at a Sackville elementary school. It was there that both teachers-turned-counsellors first dreamt of one day better equipping themselves to deal with some of the heavier mental health-related issues that oftentimes landed at their feet in their neighbouring classrooms.
“I’ve always prided myself on building a rapport with my students, and with building that rapport comes trust, then comes some pretty heavy topics that I didn’t feel I was trained to deal with,” admitted Royama, noting that the breaking point for her was when a young student of hers landed in a psych ward.
“I was switching hats, I would be a friend sometimes, mother sometimes, counsellor sometimes, and sometimes I got to be the teacher. But there were just some heartbreaking stories that I didn’t have the training that I needed, I guess, to be able to help them on a level that I felt they needed.”
Having felt a similar motivation and drive to help the youth of their shared hometown, Reinsborough-Wadden enrolled in Yorkville University’s Masters of Counselling Psychology in 2014. Royama followed suit a year later.
Now a mother of three, Reinsborough-Wadden said she juggled her full-time teaching job, plus the birth of one of her children, over the course of Yorkville’s 28-month online and practicum-based program – calling the experience “pretty hectic in the most wonderfully chaotic way.”
And Royama – who was granted a year-long educational leave during her first year of studies – said the knowledge she gained from taking her Masters of Counselling Psychology through Yorkville not only allowed her to make the career leap she so longed to make, but also helped her personally overcome a 13-year phobia of driving on the highway.
“I can’t explain how empowering it feels,” she said, noting that she employed cognitive behavioural therapy approach to confronting and conquering her fears.
“I’m so proud, because Yorkville helped me reach that. I actually applied the skills (I learned there), which…just made me believe in the program on a whole new level.”
Now graduated, Reinsborough-Wadden said both she and Royama have each gained their counsellor certification with the Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association, and both are now working full-time within the school system in mental health – a role she characterized as “the most delicious work ever.”
“You’re getting everybody – it hasn’t to do with whether or not families are able to seek out counselling or about funding, it’s about frontline work, which for me is really satisfying,” she said.
“What I had dreamt of, the role I had imagined as a school counsellor, it’s even more delicious than I thought it would be – it’s wonderful.”
And yet, both admitted that there was one piece of the puzzle missing for them before the idea behind IRIS began to bloom – the opportunity to help youth in their home community.
While both enrolled in Yorkville’s Master of Counselling Psychology with the ultimate goal of becoming school counsellors in Sackville, limited opportunities in the town’s elementary schools forced both to take jobs a 45-minute commute away in Moncton.
“In our small town, there are three schools, and a counsellor per school, which means there are no spaces for us,” Reinsborough-Wadden said of the pair’s frustration at the time.
“We had the skills, we had the passion, we wanted to support our own community, and yet we had to leave every day. It just seemed so contradictory, knowing that there are needs here, too.”
And so, the pair decided to go into private practice together, and IRIS Community Counselling & Consulting was born.
Their ultimate goal with IRIS, both said, is to offer counselling for Sackville youth that’s focused on early years preventative mental health education – and through a range of local partnerships, they’ve managed to accomplish just that.
So far, IRIS’s partnerships have included one with Fort Folly, a neighbouring First Nations community, to offer resiliency workshops, one with Town of Sackville itself to conduct empowerment workshops, and another with the local hospital foundation, which gave them a grant to offer free counselling for youth at the local middle school.
One of the most unique opportunities that IRIS has opened to door to, however, has been a partnership with EOS Eco Energy to offer workshops for youth on ways to cope with climate change-related stress.
For Royama, the resulting sessions have been eye-opening.
“It is really a sight to see – the raw emotions,” she said.
“There was a comfort level that we set, I believe, and so with that came some emotions I wasn’t expecting – some passion, some anger…they talked about feeling isolated with the issue (of climate change), of feeling this passionate about it, yet feeling like other people weren’t worried about it as much as they were.”
Things got so raw at times, Reinsborough-Wadden said, that what started off as simple workshops, soon evolved into group grief counselling sessions.
“When people consider climate change, they think about the data, and the facts, and the scientific knowledge…but then you recognize that climate change and processing that and understanding that is very much a social and emotional issue, and that’s where we step in…” she said.
“Any mental health issue is uncomfortable, but it’s from acknowledging and accepting that discomfort that you can actually grow. So that’s what these (climate change) workshops have been about – acknowledging a discomfort with peers, with a community that gets it.”
Although the workshops-turned-counselling sessions have sometimes been tough, Reinsborough-Wadden credits her Yorkville education for preparing her for any the challenges that have arisen during them.
“When you’re thinking about climate change, it’s instantly anxiety-inducing…but through Yorkville, both personally and professionally, I now understand what anxiety actually is. It’s your body’s response to something that’s important, it’s your body telling you it’s time to listen, it’s time to pay attention,” she said.
“And when we think climate change, to me what that means is that it’s time to act…And I do feel like, in our own way, that’s what IRIS is trying to do. When we think of the huge topic of climate change and how overwhelming and heavy it can be at times, I feel like we’re playing our part.”