Being the Clinical Team Lead Counsellor at the St. John’s Status of Women Council

Reflections from the outgoing leader of our counselling team, Dana Warren

After seven amazing years with the St. John’s Status of Women Counsel’s counselling team, and a few years sitting on our Board of Directors many years ago, Dana has decided to step back from her role as the Clinical Team Lead Counsellor with the organization. For those considering stepping into the role, for those who have wondered if our free, low barrier counselling services are something they would like to take part in, or for those who just wonder what we are all about here, we asked Dana a little bit about what her role has been here and what she has learned in her time with the organization.

If you had to describe your job in just 3 words, what would they be?

Curious, considered, person-centred

What is the hardest part of your job?

I think the hardest part of my role is to bring a critical lens to how we work in service to our community. It’s easier to remain the same than change. A rigorous structure is necessary, expertise is necessary, deeply criticizing how the folks we serve experience our services is necessary. To centre folks in the work is messy but … you guessed it, necessary!

What is the part of your job that you like the most?

I love sitting in the chair. I love counselling and being with people. It is very honourable work to be present when people are really attempting to do the hard work of solving problems and dilemmas. It’s a really beautiful thing to be able to sit and be a part of that. I also love being able to talk to folks about those outside forces that wreak havoc in their lives. So many external forces and systems are beyond our control and to have someone acknowledge that is powerful. People feel empowered when we listen and acknowledge their struggles without rushing into problem solve.

I also love pushing the parameters around what we call “wellness” and diminishing the stigma around mental illness and challenging the idea of “expertise”Over the years I have embraced the idea of not knowing everything. It allows me to be more present. Oh, and supervising students has taught me sooo much! Thank you.

What type of personality do you think the new Clinical Team Lead Counsellor should have? 

You have to be open, critical and curious. You have to have conviction and understanding of how illness affects people in their lives. You have to understand that trauma informed care doesn’t just mean for those you counsel, but also for those you work with, live with, and those your love.

You have to lean in and embody connection and care even when the issues are frustrating. You need to be brave and have difficult conversations in service of good work.

What types of career development or learning opportunities were important for you in this position?

I have a Bachelor of Social Work and a Masters of Social work and that education really considers the person in environment. People are not their problems and I have learned that about myself through a lot of reflection. I was given a magical opportunity to be creative around building our counselling services, specifically around individual and group counselling, training and student and clinical supervision. Being able to take my own experiences in the world into the work, especially in terms of developing new programs, data collection, protocol development is a direct result of my organizational skills in film production! It’s nice to be able to be innovative and also to be trusted to innovate. It was wonderful to feel like I could take an idea and develop it in a short time with the hard work of an amazing team.

I felt very encouraged in this work.

What is the next big thing for the Counselling Program here at the Women’s Centre?

We have an opportunity to be critical of systems that continue to demoralize and stigmatize people and to criticize those systems in ways that invite people in with connection and care. We have an opportunity to use the knowledge we have of people’s experience of counselling to build more robust options in our community. We’re definitely doing something right because people tell us they feel heard and understood, and that we’re a different kind of service.

We need to take every opportunity available to change the structure of our social safety net to actually care for those who need it most. We have incredible knowledge as an agency and as counsellors and we need to use that knowledge to contribute to systems that work with and for the people who access those systems and services.

The mission of the SJSWC is to work to achieve equality and justice through political activism, community collaboration and the creation of a safe and inclusive space for all women and non-binary people in the St. John’s area. Can you tell me about a time when you felt that mission in your work? 

I feel that every day when I sit with someone and listen. In our work we don’t place a burden on people to prove their need for service. We invite them in by attempting to lower the barriers to service. We ask them about what is important to them today. We ask people what they need and, even when they don’t know, if we create the space and time for them to think through it, they are able to articulate it. I also think that EVERYONE deserves robust service – all walks of life. In community we often think that means a certain kind of person but when folks have true access to meaningful conversations, they can usually figure out what they need and that can make the difference. People want to live and have enough. Don’t they deserve that?

I get to sit in that chair and see the work at the individual level, but I am so very proud and happy to work for an organization that shouts at a macro level. The Clinical Team Lead Counsellor position is one that allows you an understanding of the issues in our community and in one-to-one conversations. But, in this job, your knowledge also gets used to further the wellness of the community. Being able to point to what you see on the day to day and define what that means for the larger community is incredibly valuable.

Is there anything else that you would like to share? 

This has been an incredible learning and unlearning ground. This organization has stood for fifty years and it’s remarkable to think of the roots of the organization and how much it has impacted, shifted, and changed community and to be a part of that has been an honour.

We’re an organization that makes the brave choice to shout when that is what is needed. Forever thankful for my co-workers who bring it to work every day and especially the brave people who walk in the door for services, you are why we want to be better!

The team at the St. John’s Status of Women Council is so grateful for the time, energy, passion, and commitment that Dana has given to the organization and the community. We are wishing Dana the very best on this next chapter of her life and we know that she will continue to do amazing things. Thank you for all that you have contributed and know you will continue to be a voice in the back of our heads reminding us of the importance of changing policy, practice, and thinking around mental health in our community and workplace.

-Lisa Faye, Executive Director, St. John’s Status of Women Council and Women’s Centre