Bridging the Mental Health Gap in Rural Nova Scotia

Acadia’s Master of Education Counselling Program opens doors to a new community counselling centre, Red Spruce Mental Health Centre.

(L-R) Counselling faculty Tanya Surette, Ahlam Rahal, Kelly Brenton, and Birdie Bezanson

Red Spruce Mental Health Centre, an integral component of Acadia University's Master of Education (MEd) Counselling Program, is proud to announce the opening of its doors. The Centre will provide graduate counselling students invaluable experiential learning opportunities and help address mental health care disparities for rural Nova Scotians without counselling access.

“As an innovative mental health support and education model, the Centre provides responsive counselling services to individuals, groups, couples, and families while fostering professional growth for future counselling professionals through Acadia University's MEd Counselling Program,” explains Dr. Corinne Haigh, Dean of Faculty of Professional Studies.

The developmental journey of the Red Spruce Mental Health Centre was initiated by research excursions to North Carolina to engage with programs embracing a CCERC (Community Counselling, Education, and Research Centre) model focused on multiculturalism, equity, justice, and love. Inspired by these tenets, Acadia faculty partnered with The Red Door Youth Health and Support Centre in Kentville as their first community partner, welcoming their first clients on September 10. Simultaneously, Red Spruce Mental Health Centre, located at the newly renovated Willett House on campus, opened its doors to clients on September 25, with full operational capacity slated for early 2024.

“The hands-on learning opportunities at Red Spruce Mental Health Centre allow graduate counselling students to gain supervised practicum experience at two strategic locations while offering free services to those without professional access while prioritizing equity and inclusion,” says Dr. Tanya Surette, co-founder of the Red Spruce and Associate Professor in the School of Education.

Surette says the innovative approach aligns with the Nova Scotia Office of Addictions and Mental Health mandate to provide essential mental healthcare for underserved Nova Scotians. By enhancing Acadia University's nationally accredited MEd Counselling Program, Red Spruce Mental Health Centre bridges the gap for rural communities through transformative learning experiences steeped in social justice.

With the potential to provide over 8,000 hours of counselling services annually, Red Spruce Mental Health Centre will service more than 300 clients who lack access to mental health care annually. The Centre will offer part-time and full-time practicum placements for up to 40 students.

"Red Spruce Mental Health Centre symbolizes reciprocity in action. Our students will be a part of the solution to address the mental health needs of Nova Scotians without accessible, community-based counselling services. Through this community care model, students will demonstrate a commitment to practices of social justice, equity, and responsiveness while developing their skills as compassionate counsellors. We are proud to realize this long-discussed vision within our program," says Dr. Kelly Brenton, co-founder of the Red Spruce and Assistant Professor in the School of Education.

Since its conception, Red Spruce Mental Health Centre has developed in close partnership with Acadia’s Counselling Centre. It will support the campus counselling centre through intake sessions and counselling appointments to reduce wait times for Acadia students needing mental health support.

"Our partnership with Red Spruce Mental Health Centre greatly enhances our ability to support students and the community with essential mental health resources. We are dedicated to our shared values and goals and excited about the positive impact this collaboration will have," says Erica McGill, Director of Health, Counselling, and Accessible Learning at Acadia.

Christina Forgeron, current full-time student working at Willett location

Partnerships and Accreditations

Acadia University’s MEd Counselling Program is one of only four institutions in Canada to be nationally accredited. A vital factor in securing this accreditation was embedding experiential learning throughout the program, including two practicums under close supervision. “It’s inspiring and invigorating to see this innovative and impactful centre come to life, a centre that represents the mission and priorities of our school for transformative education towards the development of leaders in the counselling profession,” says Dr. Janet Dyment, Director of the School of Education, and enthusiastic supporter of the Red Spruce.

With no current access to counselling for its clients, the Red Door Youth Health and Support Centre became an ideal location for students in the MEd Counselling Program to provide counselling services through a partnership with the Red Spruce as a satellite location.

"We're thrilled to partner with Acadia University's MEd Counselling Program and Red Spruce Mental Health Centre, which has the potential to provide much-needed mental health support for our community,” says Erin Eavis, Office Manager with the Red Door.

Erin Gaudet, a current student from the MEd Counselling Program and first intern at the Red Spruce Mental Health Centre, expressed their appreciation for this partnership: "I’m honoured to have been asked to help pilot this partnership. There is such a need for accessible mental health support, and The Red Door is a beautiful space to offer these services to a population which includes folks in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”

Moving Forward

This initiative has been possible due to the dedication and support of various individuals who believe in the incredible potential of Red Spruce Mental Health Centre, explained Surette, adding that a Harrison McCain Foundation Award and funding through Acadia’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Institutional Grant have supported the project's research component.

To reach its full potential, Red Spruce Mental Health Centre requires funding for needed infrastructure and sustainable funding for a full-time coordinator position.

About Red Spruce Counselling Centre

The Red Spruce Mental Health Centre is an educational, research, and community-focused initiative to provide no-cost, accessible mental health services to rural Nova Scotians. Serving as an essential resource for Acadia University's Master of Education Counselling Program, Red Spruce allows students to gain hands-on experience while positively impacting the lives of individuals without access to counselling services.  

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