Indigenous master's degree a Canadian first

Classes begin and end with a song and prayer, and teaching encourages the 14 students to incorporate both western and Indigenous approaches to clinical counselling. The new University of Victoria program is the first in Canada to offer a master’s degree in Indigenous Communities Counselling leading to provincial and national certification.

“The program will directly address the urgent need for professional counsellors who are able to provide culturally relevant counselling services to Indigenous individuals, families and communities,” says Anne Marshall, an education professor who co-chaired the initial advisory committee that led to the program, along with professor emerita Dr. Lorna Williams.

The UVic-led and developed program provides coursework consistent with national counsellor education guidelines and certification requirements for professional counsellors. But it is grounded in Indigenous approaches to the world, and includes courses in spirituality and healing, counselling across generations and instruction on the importance of ceremony, language and communal healing.

The degree is delivered by UVic’s Department of Educational Psychology and Leadership Studies in partnership with Indigenous Education. It was developed after extensive consultation with faculty, mental health professionals and Indigenous community members.

A pilot program saw 19 students graduate with master’s degrees in 2011-12. Fourteen new students began classes in late January 2014. (The three-year program is held on weekends at UVic’s First Peoples House and in the community, so students don’t have to leave their jobs and families.)

The students will learn to blend both Indigenous and “Western” ways of healing, integrating the two so they will have more skills and knowledge to draw upon as counsellors. The majority of students are Indigenous and will work with their communities after graduating, in urban or rural settings.

Roger John, a member of the St’at’imc Nation, is an assistant professor and the academic advisor for the program. “There is still a lot of residue in the Indigenous community from the impacts of colonization including poverty and post-traumatic stress disorder,” John says. “But there are also many strengths there that can be used to help in the healing. Counselling psychology is one of the best ways to access these strengths.”

Barb Cowan, executive director of Surrounded By Cedar Child and Family Services, has seen several graduates of the pilot program putting their training to work, with positive results. “Families and children are really able to open up to them.”

The comprehensive program includes a 400-hour practicum. Mentoring and traditional knowledge activities are supported by a Counselling Foundation of Canada grant.

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Media contacts

Roger John (Advisor, Indigenous Communities Graduate Counselling Program) at 250-721-8911 or

Anne Marshall (Director, Centre for Youth and Society) at 250-721-7815 or

Kim Sharpe (UC+M) at 250-721-6248 or

In this story

Keywords: Indigenous, education

People: Anne Marshall, Lorna Williams, Roger John, Barb Cowan

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