New Brunswick

Saint John social worker offers free counselling

A Saint John social worker is offering free counselling services, after hearing her clients discuss gaps in the mental health system.

Laura Gatien started offering free counselling, but no one showed up to the first session

Laura Gatien runs a counselling service at 66 Waterloo St. in Saint John. (Submitted by Laura Gatien)

A Saint John social worker is offering free counselling services, after hearing her clients discuss gaps in the mental health system. 

The no-charge, drop-in counselling takes place at Laura Gatien's office at 66 Waterloo St. on a first come, first served  basis on Fridays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Gatien is a social worker and clinical therapist who has been counselling since 2011.

She specializes in several areas, including PTSD and domestic violence.

Gatien wanted to offer free counselling, so people who don't have insurance or can't afford the cost can still receive the help they need. 

She first thought of the idea when she was talking with patients in a PTSD group she runs at her office. She asked them what could be done to help improve mental health services, given recent discussions in the city surrounding how to prevent suicide. 

"They said, 'Well, I think they need something that they know they can drop into and be seen, no questions asked, no paperwork no full waiting room, no receptionist behind the glass," Gatien said. "Just a relaxed, accepting, warm atmosphere."

So Gatien set out to create that. During her free sessions, people can talk to a social worker to develop a plan for improving their mental health and learn about other resources in the community that might be able to help.

"It's a good way to get some no-strings attached information," she said. "You don't have a bunch of forms to fill out. It's super relaxed and casual."

She was able to set up the service with the help of an intern. 

First session a fluke

Gatien has already held her first free counselling service and expected a huge response. She made a Facebook post about it that was shared about 500 times. 

"We were ready with a boardroom with resources all set up and some snacks," she said.

But no one showed up. 

Gatien isn't sure why that happened. 

"I don't know if just no one felt the need to seek help during those two hours or if they forgot about it."

Some people might also be intimidated or may be hesitant to reach out because of a bad experience with a social worker in the past, she said. She also said the 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. slot may not be convenient for people who work daytime jobs. 

Regardless of numbers, Gatien plans to continue offering the free counselling on Fridays, and she was pleased to report four people came by during her second session on Friday.

She's looking into applying for more funding to sustain the no-charge service. 

While the Friday sessions are free, Gatien said those wishing to pursue further counselling should consider signing up for her low-cost service at a price of $25 per weekly session.

With files from Information Morning Saint John

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