The Whole-Person Approach to Mental Health Support — Boreal Wellness Centres
by Stacy Thomas | September 18, 2020, updated about 1 month ago
One of the hardest parts of dealing with mental illness is the isolation.
Isolation and stigma are frequent companions to mental health challenges—be they self-imposed or societal—and they prevent many who are struggling from receiving the help they need, and deserve.
With these people in mind, Sean Gjos founded Boreal Wellness Centres in Vancouver, B.C. Formerly a CEO, executive, board member, and advisor in the healthcare field, he wanted to create a space for individuals with mental health concerns to heal, and to feel taken care of. He did his research and talked to psychiatrists and psychologists, to try to understand where the gaps in support were, and how to fill them.
Gjos noted that while individual therapy is effective for many, there are many more for whom additional attention is required. For many, a single-track treatment model of only one-on-one therapy sessions doesn’t address enough of the mental health picture to truly allow for enough support. Gjos explains—
“People with anxiety and depression and trauma, what were they doing if one-on-one just wasn’t enough? In a lot of cases, they weren’t doing anything. They were just suffering and continuing to struggle with these challenges. In some cases, they’d continue to devolve until they ended up in the hospital. But for a lot of them they were just making their way, living in a black and white world while so many folks are living in colour […] That was the genesis of the clinic. There was this need that was staring us in the face.”
Boreal Wellness Centres focus on group therapy as their main mode of treatment.
Group therapy introduces clients to others who have had experiences similar to their own. They get to share with others on a regular basis and be a part of a caring community—helping to reduce feelings of shame, and isolation.
This type of support can make all the difference for some people.
“The process of being in a group has a lot of benefits for folks,” he says. “The dynamics that happen [...] That notion that someone’s not alone. That right there is a great realization for creating momentum.”
After operating for two years the centre has shown positive results. Based on the outcome measures of people who see a group through from start to finish, the clinics have averaged an 80 to 85 percent success rate.
Part of this success is thanks to the “closed group” model that the centre adheres to. All participants start together and see the program through together. Groups are relatively small, with a maximum of ten participants. This builds a sense of camaraderie that can continue beyond the limits of the arranged group meetings.
“It really helps create connections between group members,” says Gjos. “Those connections can survive for years after they’ve completed a program, and that can be really helpful, to have several other people who understand your journey and your challenges, in part because you talked about it, but also in part because they’ve been going through a similar journey.”
The centre has adopted a “Whole Person Approach” to its treatment model. Drawing from a varied pool of therapists, from psychiatrists and social workers, to dietitians and yoga therapists, each client is offered a full holistic treatment plan which includes dietary, exercise and fitness interventions, psychotherapy, vocational planning, and relationship therapy. Holistic therapies acknowledge the effects that anxiety and depression can have on the central nervous system, and therefore the cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems—holistic approaches acknowledge the mind-body connection.
The clinic is now launching virtual groups to help those who live in more remote locations, including a non-12-step based virtual recovery program for those with mild to moderate addictions issues. In the midst of covid-19, virtual programs are more important than ever before.
“Depending on which program it is, we look at what the client’s needs are, and we take the best evidence-based skills and processes, and put them in the program,” says Gjos. “I feel very fortunate that some really talented people have opted to spend time working with us, supporting our multidisciplinary approach to programming.”
Without a doubt, Boreal Wellness Centre’s whole-person approach is what’s next in mental health care.
Stacy Thomas was born and raised among the orchards of the Okanagan Valley. She studied journalism in Vancouver, B.C., and has worked as a reporter in places such as Germany, Ukraine, Northern B.C. and rural Alberta. Passionate about nature, she now lives in Squamish with her partner Nicki and her rescue dog Harley. She is currently a student of creative writing at the University of British Columbia, where she draws comics and writes poetry.