It’s February and that means it’s Anniversary Month at Laura Gatien and Associates. Five years ago, Laura started a one woman show, hanging out her shingle in a tiny office on Waterloo Street in uptown Saint John.
After fearing she'd be fired from her government social worker role, she decided to act on her vision...to make mental health care better understood and more accessible.
She did this at 29, while she was on maternity leave with Gabe, her third child, with no clear plan or how this would be possible. But at this crossroads she knew she had to choose who she was going to be...someone with a passion for social justice and advocacy or the person her employer needed her to be to remain employed. The choice was easy. For Laura, advocacy and being a voice for those who are less heard is a way of life rather than a career.
Laura started doing mental health advocacy and education on social media and in the community and saw a huge demand for her counselling services right away, so she stepped up to meet the need by hiring her first associate, Taylor Wells, after only 6 months. Five years later, with over 20 therapists, 5 counselling interns, 3 admin rock-stars and a strong leadership team at her Saint John clinic, she doesn’t show signs of slowing down!
Now in her 30’s, she’s running a thriving counselling business, still providing some counselling herself (when she can) and she just finished her sex therapy certification after 2 long years of training. Her article, Mental Health is Health was published recently in The [EDIT] and to top off the year, she was nominated for the Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Business Award in October.
We asked Laura a few questions as she embarks on her sixth year in business…
Q: Has much changed over the last year? Laura: Oh, a lot of changes and exciting things have happened this past year! We renovated the lower level of our new 5,000 sq.ft office building on Westmorland Road to be the home of our free and subsidized counselling programs - so we could meet the growing needs of the community and beyond, in-person & virtually. With 17 counselling offices, it is so nice that we are utilizing our space to it’s full potential.
Our First Responder Peer-to-Peer Support Group is slowly growing and we are seeing more people come out every Wednesday. They are one of the groups that meet in our community room.
We expanded our Free Friday and Low-cost programs by taking on more counselling interns. We launched our mental health advocacy campaign, There is No US & THEM when we realized you can make mental health services free and easy and people still don’t reach out - we need to wear the message, and talk openly about our mental health.
But the REALLY big news is the recent creation of our non-profit organization, JUST US; We All Struggle Inc. (JUST US) so we can increase our impact in the community by growing our free an low-cost programs, so no one gets turned away.! And to top it all off, we’re opening a second clinic location, in Fredericton at the end of this month!
Q: Has anything stayed the same over the last year? Laura: That’s easy. It has always been important to me to remove barriers to mental health care and create an improved, more proactive and efficient mental health system - so we can build a healthier society and take some pressure off the overwhelmed public system.
When parents get the help they need, that helps their kids. It is so easy to say you support mental health but modelling it is a whole other thing. I am so proud that so many brave people show up to their counselling sessions each and every month at our office to do the hard work of figuring themselves out, understanding their trauma and showing up in the world as their healthiest self. You are sending a strong and implicit message to your friends, family, colleagues that mental health is health.
We need to stop fishing people out of the river, instead, we need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in. As a clinic, we continue to do advocacy and provide education around mental health and the importance of accessible and proactive mental health treatment. We help people understand it’s normal to struggle - no one is immune - mental health is health. We help people stay out of the ER. We help people stay alive. We help people thrive. That’s something that won’t change.
Q: Tell us about the new Fredericton clinic opening in March
Laura: We have a vision to bring Laura Gatien & Associates clinics (always including FREE and low-cost counselling) to every major city in Atlantic Canada, starting with our second location in Fredericton. Our new non-profit organization, JUST US Inc., will be a big part of that vision. And with every location we launch, we will keep the same model that we established in Saint John - we will always include low-cost and free counselling programs - we don’t turn anyone away.
Our Fredericton Team: Natalie Mcglaggan, Laura Gatien & Ashley Delahaye - All registered social workers and our new North side location at 891 Riverside Drive (turn in at the Dobbelstyne's sign!)
Stay tuned...next week we'll publish part 2 of our interview with Laura. She'll share details on the new non-profit organization, JUST US; We All Struggle Inc. (JUST US), give some advice on starting a business, and more.