Ten Things I’ve Learned as a Selkirk College Counsellor

A few weeks ago, the bright and intrepid third year nursing student, David Felton, wrote a wonderful post about his experience at the 2016 Healthy Campus Summit that he attended in Vancouver in March with six other folks from the Selkirk Community:


I am now working my last few days as a counsellor at Selkirk College and will follow in his footsteps and try to sum up some of the things I have learned over the last 12 years:

1. Food is the way to everyone’s hearts – especially students!

Students are often stressed, broke and hungry.  Cooking and eating together at the Tenth Street Dinner Club became a wonderful way for students, staff and community members to get to know each other better and share a good, nutritious meal.  I was startled by the depth of connections that developed through cooking, eating and talking together around the dining table.

2.  Self-Care is the foundation of other-care

As counsellors our most important tool for helping students is our own healthy body and mind and our ability to bring  personal integrity, well-being and presence to each encounter.   Even though I went to some amazing  professional development conferences and courses over the years, my most valuable PD was always a week I spent each spring in an off-the-grid meditation cabin reflecting, writing, reading and just being a part of the forest for a few days.  These times of wind and leaf and starlight allowed me to process, rejuvenate and return to work with a calm mind and open heart.

3.  Collaborating with students is awesome!

Several years ago my wonderful co-conspirator, friend and colleague Tammy McLean approached me about using third and fourth year nursing students to help implement some of our Healthy Campus initiatives.  What a fantastic partnership we have created as we explored and learned together about health promotion and community building.  I have learned so much from their “insider knowledge” of student life, their passion for health and their willingness to experiment with different ways of engaging students in conversations around well-being.

4.  Listening is the core to building a caring community.

A few years ago I was involved in mediation programs, organizing a college life-coaching program and spending time with the Residence Advisors around suicide awareness.  I realized that the key foundational skill for all of these programs was the ability to calm our own nervous systems and then listen without judgement to another person’s experience.

5. Radical Self-Acceptance is our journey.

Students (and other human beings) are often so hard on themselves.  Radical self-acceptance involves allowing ourselves to be just the way we are.

When we are anxious or nervous, frustrated or scared we usually look for something to end the uncomfortable feeling (drugs, alcohol, netflicks, facebook, porn, food . . . . . so many ways to avoid ourselves!)   I work with students to stop running from discomfort and instead slow down so that they can engage a sense of curiosity about the thoughts, feelings and body sensations that they are experiencing.

It takes courage and honesty to be willing to experience our full messy beings, but in the end we build the resilience to ride life’s waves.


6.  Of frogs and ponds . . . .

When lots of students are distressed, we need to examine the elements of their  post-secondary experience. My wonderful colleagues at Healthy Minds/Healthy Campus healthycampuses.ca, explain campus well-being in socio-ecological terms: If a frog is sick, we need to look at the health of the pond.  If our students are struggling en masse, we need to explore how we can create a campus environment that supports students and staff to feel connected and healthy.

This radical metaphor that has rocked my world and sent me on a journey of noticing, exploring and experimenting with what creates health, belonging, and cultures that nourish.

7. Creative sparks need tending.

One of the joys of my counselling practice in Nelson has been working with students in the arts programs.  I have learned so much about the healing power of creativity and the frustrations that happen when the creative process is clogged. Creativity forums and the following video were a way to talk with artists and students about the vulnerability, tenacity and self-care that is needed to keep the creative juices gushing:

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/147534495″>Staying Juicy: Keeping Creativity Alive</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user3457677″>Selkirk College</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

8.  We are stories and love helping each other.

I have been amazed at how seldom students, staff or community members say “no” when we invite them to share their stories and wisdom.  From messages to to people who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts to sharing survival tips, people usually jump at the chance to share their hard-won expertise on how to navigate life’s challenges:

9. Its all about team work.

Counselling is sometimes exhausting and challenging and it is so important to have an amazing team of colleagues to turn to for advice, support and fun:


10. This is a love letter . . . .

In a few days  this Selkirk chapter of my life is closing and I will be off to the University of Central Asia to start a new learning journey.  My Selkirk ride has been extraordinary.  I have been honoured to work with amazing students and colleagues who have shared their struggles and accomplishments and  I have had the fortune of  having both local and provincial mentors and friends who challenged my thinking and supported my wild ideas.

Thanks all – my heart is full and I will carry all I have learned to a new mountainous part of the world!









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