Counsellor praises move to HSA

The Report: March / April 1998 vol.18 num.7


Wedlidi Speck couldn’t get enthused about the drive to unionize his work place. Infact, the counsellorat the John Howard Society in Courtenay was downright opposed to it.

It was an unusual beginning for someone who now takes an active role in his union. Infact, Speck, a nine-year veteran, helped negotiate the bargaining unit’s firstcollective agreement.

A counsellor who uses both conventional and First Nations methods in his work, Speckapplied a live-and-let-live approach to the unionization drive.

"I’m always in favour of a collaborative approach to resolvingconflicts," Speck says. "I didn’t want an adversarial environment. So I wasone of those who voted no to the union. But at the same time, I also was prepared to gowith whatever happened."

What happened, of course, was that some 50 workers at five sites of the North IslandJohn Howard Society voted to join the Health Sciences Association. And Speck, alwaysreceptive, found that his fears of "old-style" confrontation were unfounded.

"I felt management was receptive, all the way through" the collectivebargaining process, he relates. "I think my concerns were heard."

HSA membership helped standardize labour relations at the five work sites, clarifyingand streamlining the grievance process, Speck says. "It’s not like the ‘oldunion days’ at all."

Counsellors at John Howard deal with some of society’s most difficult cases. Specksays there’s no single method that works for all his young, often juvenile, clients.

"We’re unlike most other John Howard facilities in Canada," says Speck.The majority of the programs are for teens, dealing with problems such as sex offences,alcohol and drug abuse, and uncontrolled anger.

Counsellors handle a caseload of about five clients per day, and average about 44 peryear. The five sites serve about 33,000 north island residents. Therapy comes in a varietyof forms.

Narrative therapy involves "deconstruction" questions that allow the clientto externalize the problem. Bio-psycho-social therapy examines psychological and socialfactors in assessing alcohol and drug dependency. Positive reinforcement comes through"brief solution focussed therapy."

But Speck has additional options in what he calls his "spiritual tool kit."He combines conventional therapies with First Nations methods such as the sweat lodge,healing circles, storytelling and poetry. The process has rewards for the counsellor aswell as the clients, says Speck. "This time in my life is the most fulfilling,powerful and rich."

Speck thinks modern society suffers through spiritual impoverishment. "We have noright-of-passage ceremonies; we have no elders, so young people have been abandoned.I’m like a parent re-establishing a right-of-passage."

Speck acknowledges that he’s "walked that kind of cultural path" many ofhis clients are on. He quit drinking back in 1975, and has been involved in Native therapyfor 15 years and storytelling for the past 10. He joined John Howard nine years ago.

John Howard workers were divided into pro and con camps during the HSA drive, but mostof those "feelings" have disappeared, Speck relates. "We’re workingmaybe even closer together now. [The union drive] showed we could disagree about somethingand then sit down and discuss it.

"It gave us a tremendous opportunity to look at our value system. I thinkthat’s a gift in itself."