VICCIR Working to Support Newcomers Through Mental Health Services

Adrienne Carter and her team of hard-working counsellors and translators are making a difference in the lives of immigrants and refugees in Victoria through their organization called the Vancouver Island Counselling Centre for Immigrants and Refugees. VICCIR began in 2015 with an idea and became a reality in 2016 when they took in their first clients. The idea for this organization came from Adrienne’s time spent abroad in the Middle East. It was apparent to her in working with Syrian refugees that they knew they needed mental health services and were seeking them out, even though they were not widely available in many Middle Eastern countries. As a mental health specialist, she learned a lot about how to set up mental health services that would be effective for people of different cultures when they come to a place like Canada. Not only that, but she also realized the importance of helping those who do the helping. The people who help those in these crises are also very exposed to trauma, through hearing the stories that newcomers have gone through.

People of all ages and genders are accepted, and many times family units are seen together. Unlike other counselling services that operate under different mandates, VICCIR operates on the basis of seeing families not as individuals, but as a unit together in their sessions. In our interview, Adrienne stressed to us the importance of this because it is important for the parents to heal in order to help their children heal. An amazing aspect of this organization is the fact that they do not turn away anybody, regardless of their ability to pay for the counselling services. Even more incredible, all of the counsellors and translators do their work pro bono, as volunteers.

At the heart of their organization, counselling programs are an integral part of the process that newcomers go through when they come to Canada. Many of them have experienced major trauma in their lives and suffered very overwhelming experiences; whether it be the exposure to violence, loss of loved ones, and loss of country, among others. There are various modalities of therapy, including talking therapy, somatic therapy, EMDR, art therapy, and even play therapy for children. These different types of therapy can be used on their own, or in many cases are used in combination with one another. Adrienne told us that often times, there are multiple people assigned to one person or family. For example, there could be one or more counsellors, a translator, and if needed, a child care worker for one person or family.

A hurdle that has been presented for VICCIR is the issue of lack of funding. Their counsellors work free of charge, but this means that finding counsellors who are willing and able to work pro bono is extremely difficult. If they were able to find adequate funding, Adrienne says that they would be able to hire more counsellors, therefore making them able to serve more people. This is important, especially because there is a growing list of clients, and many more than they are able to see in a timely manner.

When asked on a personal level how it feels to be involved with this organization, she says “it feels like it’s becoming a full-time job doing it pro bono, but at the same time it’s extremely exciting, and seeing the changes in the clients is very exciting”. She says that without all of the people with different abilities who work with VICCIR, it wouldn’t be as amazing as it is.

VICCIR is an organization that does truly great work for immigrants and newcomers that are facing the effects of trauma. Working with Victoria’s Intercultural Association to connect newcomers to their services, VICCIR is able to provide much needed help to those that need it during the most difficult time in their lives.

Told by: 

Kristy Irvine


Newcomer story: 

Newcomers story