Counsellors evacuated from Fort McMurray offer free services for their community
Mental health services will also be important as evacuees return home, counsellor says
A group of Fort McMurray counsellors are dealing with the trauma of being evacuated from their town by helping other members of their community heal.
Since Monday, Borealis Counselling Services from Fort McMurray began offering free one-on-one sessions to any Fort McMurray evacuee struggling to cope.
"We know how important that is, to be able to help people when there's traumatic events occurring," said executive director Cathy Underhill.
Borealis has existed in Fort McMurray for 28 years, serving mostly as a non-profit employee assistance program. Last year, the group began offering services to the general public due to the high demand stemming from the economic downturn.
Because of what we do, we want to be able to help people who are struggling as well.- Cathy Underhill, Borealis Counselling Services
Underhill fled Fort McMurray with a fellow counsellor two weeks ago, along with around 90,000 other people.
Initially, she thought they would only be gone for a few days. When her group realized it would take longer to get home, they turned their focus towards helping others.
Return to Fort McMurray will be traumatic
"Obviously we're dealing with our own emotions," Underhill said. "Because of what we do, we want to be able to help people who are struggling as well."
River's Edge Counselling in St. Albert set Borealis up with free temporary office space, and the group is also available 24 hours a day over the phone.
They only started on Monday, but calls have already started to come in. Underhill said people are anxious, and evacuees are understandably emotional.
She said her group is looking for donations so they can continue to offer free services to the community.
"We understand the importance of people being able to talk about their experiences within a short time of the incident occurring," she said.
Underhill said she hopes her counsellors will be among the first allowed to return to Fort McMurray, so they can offer mental health services to evacuees as they arrive back in the city.
"Going back is going to be devastating," she said. "People are going to actually see the devastation first hand."