Gift empowers Dal community clinic to improve its care for diverse clients

- March 5, 2024

From left to right, Dr. Shannon Johnson, Melodie Skeete, Dr. Alissa Pencer, J.P. Girard, Robin Perry, and Dr. Chuck Macdonald pose for a photo at the Dalhousie Centre for Psychological Health. (Danny Abriel photos)
From left to right, Dr. Shannon Johnson, Melodie Skeete, Dr. Alissa Pencer, J.P. Girard, Robin Perry, and Dr. Chuck Macdonald pose for a photo at the Dalhousie Centre for Psychological Health. (Danny Abriel photos)

A Dalhousie community clinic delivering mental health and addictions services to Nova Scotians is set to elevate its care for an increasingly diverse client base thanks to a new national partnership.

A $200,000 gift from GreenShield, Canada’s only national non-profit health and benefits provider, will enable Dalhousie’s Centre for Psychological Health to provide valuable new clinical training to help strengthen the culturally appropriate care offered to clients.

Staff and students will participate in workshops and training programs with outside experts on how to better work with and deliver care to diverse clients, including refugees and newcomers to Canada as well as members of Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. 

“In a growing, diverse country, it is increasingly important that the care we deliver as clinical psychologists is appropriate for the communities we serve,” said Dr. Alissa Pencer, the Halifax-based clinic’s co-director along with Dr. Shannon Johnson. 

Dr. Alissa Pencer

“We know that diverse clients often face barriers in receiving culturally appropriate care. To better inform our staff and students, it is often necessary to consult with practitioners with areas of expertise beyond our team of psychologists,” she added. “We are grateful to GreenShield for their support and know that it will help shape the next generation of clinical psychologists we train as part of our program.”

The gift from GreenShield Cares, which handles the company’s social impact efforts, was announced at an event last Friday at the clinic in the Fenwick Medical Centre by Green Shield Canada’s Executive Vice President & Head of Health Insurance J.P. Girard.

 “We’re proud to support Dalhousie’s Centre for Psychological Health to enable the customization and expansion of programs and services for equity-seeking communities,” said Girard. “In our pursuit of Better Health for All, we join forces with partners like Dalhousie that understand the distinct and diverse needs of our communities. Together, we’re one step closer to building a future where every Canadian can thrive."

J.P. Girard

Recommended reading: Dal and Nova Scotia launch Centre for Psychological Health for vulnerable populations

Community impact

The event provided an opportunity to deliver an update on the Centre’s operations since its soft opening in June 2023. To date, 27 clinical psychology PhD students have conducted placements as part of the more than 1,000 hours they need to graduate, including fifth-year student Robin Perry, who began one of her final clinical placements last fall.

“What really stands out about my experiences at the Centre is the emphasis on culturally informed service delivery, the collaborative learning environment, and the wide range of training opportunities offered to graduate students and team members of all levels,” said Perry. 

Perry said she’s been supervised by three different clinical psychologists, each with different specialty areas, and provided peer supervision to second-year students in the program. 

Robin Perry

Students like Perry have helped deliver care to 171 exclusively low-income clients who have been referred to the Centre through the 17 community partnerships that have been established so far.

One of those partnerships is with SchoolsPlus, a province-wide integrated service delivery model with sites at all Regional Centres for Education and Conseil Scolaire Acadien Provincial (CSAP).  

Melodie Skeete, SchoolsPlus integrated services regional coordinator, said her organization has referred children/youth and their families for psychoeducational and ADHD assessments. 

“Schools are often the first place to notice when students and families are struggling,” said Skeete, adding that SchoolsPlus staff often have trouble adequately resourcing mental health services and assessments due to system gaps and barriers. 

“The Centre is one of a kind. It addresses the service gaps for those who are marginalized and economically excluded by providing low-barrier, no-cost and timely mental health and assessment services.”

Melodie Skeete

Looking to the future

Dr. Pencer noted that staff and students have already received a workshop led by Anangkwe Charity Fleming, an Ontario-based Indigenous social worker who specializes in Indigenous-adapted cognitive behavioural therapy, which is used to treat several different mental health conditions. 

Fleming will help the Centre develop a Mi’kmaq-adapted, Etuaptmumk Two-Eyed Seeing-structured psychotherapy model. Elder Albert Marshall of Eskasoni Nation and Dalhousie’s Elder-in-Residence Ann LaBillois will serve as advisors for the project.

While she engages with Indigenous community members to guide the process and creation of the new model, Fleming will continue to consult with the Centre to provide training on working with Indigenous clients. 

Workshops planned for the spring and summer will focus on the African Nova Scotian community, refugees, newcomers to Canada, and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

Dean of Science Dr. Chuck Macdonald concluded the event by praising the work of the Centre as exemplifying Dal’s commitment to being a civic university and looked forward to the impact the gift will make. 

“GreenShield’s gift will allow the Centre to continue to grow and build on its early success. The impact of this generosity will be felt at Dal, in the local community, and beyond.”

Dr. Chuck Macdonald


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