Squamish counsellor Lynn Gifford, who runs her practice Totem House, is using the great outdoors of the Squamish area to help her clients heal.
With the public health protocols of the COVID-19 pandemic keeping interactions limited, Gifford has turned to a safer and more informal way to meet with clients and offer her assistance with a unique “walk and talk” service in many of the wonderful outdoor spaces around Squamish.
“I have found when I offer outdoor sessions my clients really thrive because I think there’s some relief outside in terms of emotional space,” says Gifford who has spent the last 45 years in nursing and counselling, and moved to Squamish in 2018. “When there are difficult conversations happening, a little bit of space, nature, and the movement of your body walking can be soothing and healing.”
Gifford says she has considered continuing the walk and talk sessions once public health restrictions have subsided because many clients seem to prefer the outdoors.
“It seems people do well with alternative ways of healing,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be all talk. There are other ways to heal with nature, movement, and being in a supportive relationship with others.”
While she offers virtual appointments, too, Gifford says one-on-one sessions in a traditional counselling environment can be limiting, especially for new clients or those with trust issues.
“When a client is in a small office space, and a stranger is looking at them when they feel vulnerable and are having struggles, it can be intimidating,” Gifford says.
“During a walk and talk, a client can ease into things, develop a rapport, and get comfortable with me. Then, if the client choses, we can move to an office setting, using the appropriate physical distancing and PPE, if a little deeper work is required.” Optional spaces choice and non-judgement can empower clients to consider personal change.
It’s that commitment to provide a trauma-informed approach to providing care which is a hallmark of Gifford’s career that included being the coordinator of forensic nursing—which focuses on care for those who have suffered violence—in the Emergency Department of Surrey Memorial Hospital.
“Most of the time, the patients were the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other forms of violence in the context of intimate relationships,” she says. “While I was doing that work I began to understand how important a relationship is with people you are trying to help heal.
“So, I started to move my personal clinical practice from treating physical needs to responding to a person in a holistic sense—heart, mind, body and spirit.”
Through that, Gifford says she developed an understanding of how, particularly, mental health is impacted by emotional, physical, and spiritual trauma.
“That got me very interested in that line of work,” she says, adding she went back to school to earn a masters in leadership to help equip her to help influence how nursing care is provided to trauma victims.
“I felt inspired to bring that change to the nursing profession,” she says.
When Gifford recognized she needed to move out of that direct contact work, she still wanted to provide care in other ways and returned to school in 2016 and earned her masters in clinical counselling.
“I wanted to continue offering care for people experiencing burnout and vicarious trauma through nursing, and fellow first responders such as paramedics, firefighters, police officers, clergy, and Crown counsel who are on the front lines of human service work,” Gifford says. “I recognized the world is beginning to hear and respond to the people who provide this essential frontline care.
“And more needs to be done to keep this group of providers safe.”
For more about how Totem House can help you, visit totemhouse.ca.