If something isn’t working, try differently, not harder. Art therapist Zoë Armstrong lives by these words, but last fall, she embodied this expression even further: she decided she needed a change from the local counselling agency where she had been working for five years.
It wasn’t that Armstrong wasn’t connecting with, and forming meaningful relationships with her clients. In fact, she had a full caseload. She just believed she could do more.
Armstrong moved to the Yukon to complete a generalist contract after completing her post baccalaureate diploma in art therapy at the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute in Nelson, B.C.
“I was going to come for two years to fill my contract and then leave, and here I am six years later with a private practice,” she says.
It is Armstrong’s personal mission to bring validity and legitimacy to the art therapy field, and to dispel labels of being the “paint and sparkle lady.”
That’s why she’s currently pursuing an art therapy doctorate degree at Mount Mary University in Wisconsin. Armstrong is passionate about having a voice in policy change and advocating for her field, which is heavily based in neuroscience.
Her juried art show, Auspicious Spaces, is currently exhibiting at Arts Underground until September and in October she will be presenting at the National Art Therapy Conference in Vancouver.
“There is a different way of approaching things,” Armstrong says. “Mental health services often involve a lot of medication, and people are looking for something different that works.”That something different presented itself last year while Armstrong was out celebrating a friend’s internship with friends Jonathan Van Viegen and Erin Legault.
Van Viegen, a marriage and therapy counsellor, told Armstrong and Legault he was starting a private practice. He invited Armstrong, a Registered Canadian Art Therapist, and Legault, a Canadian Certified Counsellor, to join him in his wellness venture. “It’s not the greatest story,” laughs Armstrong. “Jonathan said, ‘Let’s do this’ …and we did!”In October 2016, the trio realized this dream, opening up Ignite Counselling, a private practice located in downtown Whitehorse. A large sign announcing their practice hangs out front of their building: an intentional decision to help decrease the stigma that is often attached to counseling and therapy.
“Our space is welcoming, warm and as non-clinical as possible. It doesn’t feel like a doctor’s office,” Armstrong says.
Ignite Counseling offers a holistic view that embraces mental, emotional and physical well-being. The three practitioners also rent out a room to registered massage therapist Dorothy Heimersson, who offers in-house massage therapy.
A unique service that Ignite Counselling offers is collaborative, in-house work from three diverse and skilled practitioners. “If I work with a child and family, maybe the adult wants to work with Erin or Jonathan,” Armstrong explains. “In this way, we are working together to look at a system, rather than just the individual.”
Van Viegen is a counsellor who specializes in marriage and family therapy. He believes that “creating healing environments is key to helping individuals change and overcome troublesome interactions or negative thought patterns.”
He uses “Solution-Focused Brief Therapy” to engage with individuals, couples and families. This approach focuses on highlighting what is working and in discovering effective, new solutions to old behaviours, patterns and conflicts. In individual therapy, Van Viegen specializes in depression, addictions, anger management, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, obsessive compulsive disorder, trauma and LGBTQ issues.
Legault is a counsellor who specializes in working with youth. Since 2008 she has been working with youth and at-risk youth, but she also works with children and adults, as well. Over the last three years she worked as a youth counsellor at Many Rivers Counselling, and currently works as a training and knowledge exchange coordinator with the Yukon Government, helping to implement a new Mental Wellness Strategy in the territory.
Legault believes that the relationship between counsellor and client is key, and that a positive therapeutic alliance is essential to the work. She specializes in relationships (family, friends, romantic), suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety, and “youth stuff” like frustrations and stressors.
Finally, Armstrong is a Nationally Registered Art Therapist who specializes in trauma, grief and loss. As Armstrong explains, art therapy is an effective therapeutic medium that really works. Unlike traditional talk therapy, art therapy has the ability to bypass the sometimes highly defended processes of language. She says many people come to see her after they’ve tried everything else.
“[Art therapy] is an amazing way of processing trauma and other experiences,” Armstrong says.
The idea behind art therapy is not only examining what you’re processing, but how you’re processing it. Armstrong says that the question “how come?” often gets overlooked. She stresses the importance of exploring the context and environment of an individual’s life in a safe and contained way.
Armstrong says that while some individuals prefer to come in every week, others check in once a month, or every few months on an as-needed basis.
The compassionate team at Ignite Counselling is there to support individuals when and if they need it.
“It’s amazing to see people progress and change how they do things,” says Armstrong. “The idea is to work differently and not harder, because most people are already at their capacity, and it’s not working.”
If you would like to book an appointment with Zoë Armstrong, Jonathan Van Viegen or Erin Legault, you can do so by calling 867-668-5498 or emailing [email protected]
Referrals are not necessary and, at the time of writing, there was is no waiting list. For more detailed information about Ignite Counselling, visit www.IgniteCounselling.ca. The practice is located at suite #1, 3089 – 3rd Ave. in Whitehorse.