People feel pressure to have culturally acceptable hobbies and interests, says Gwen Bonnell. Therefore, they may hide their passions, which means denying a part of who they are. Part of her role as a mental health therapist is “helping people have the confidence to pursue those things.”
“I really like the story approach,” says Bonnell. “When you sit with someone and hear their story.”
Part of what Bonnell is listening for is strengths and interests that the person may not even realize that they have. One of these skills is practicing self-care, which includes pursuing meaningful activities, which align with people’s passions. Each person has different passions and interests, things that bring them joy and peace. For one person this could be riding a bike. Another might be painting, writing, or metal detecting.
Therapy is one of the tools people can use to promote wellness and address any mental health concerns, she says. However, it only part of the whole. Some of the things people can use to improve their mental health and wellness are changing thought patterns, self-care, healthy sleep patterns, healthy eating, and exercise.
Bonnell’s goal is for people to learn the skills they need to get through their day-to-day lives. She hopes that her clients will get to the point where they may on occasion still need some support from a counsellor or good conversation with a friend, but they can manage their emotions, thoughts, and actions for the most part.
“People are more comfortable with it,” she says, referring to discussions around mental health and going to see a counsellor.
Asked how she likes working as a counsellor, Bonnell says, “I love it. I love anything to related to mental health – the whole focus on wellness. There’s so much available that can bring healing. We don’t need to endure it.”
Bonnell has opened up a private counselling service in Slave Lake called Swan Therapeutic Services.
“It’s a name that has personal meaning for me,” she says. “In this area, there’s a lot of swans.”
Bonnell has a social work background and has a masters of arts in counselling psychology. She’s been working as a mental health therapist in Slave Lake for the last year. She’s now branched out and has a private practice evenings and weekends.
“It’s an opportunity for me to personally develop my skill further,” she says. Also, she has noticed a need in the community for more after hours psychological services.
People can either pay for the counselling out of pocket or their extended health benefits from work may cover it. Bonnell’s website is swantherapeuticservices.ca.