Joyce Henley provides specialized counselling services to students from Indigenous, Black and People of Colour backgrounds. She brings her own experience as a biracial person with an African-American father and white mother to her role.
Joyce Henley relates to the intersection of racism and mental health, something she shares with her clients at UNBC Counselling Services.
“I absolutely love my job. Honestly, I have never been in a job that I feel meets all my needs,” says Henley, a Counsellor who focuses on Black, Indigenous and racialized students. “I’ve been in this job for over a year now, but I think what attracted me the most to it was that I knew I would be given the opportunity to be creative and practice in a way that made the most sense to me and my clients. The impact of racism on the mental health of racialized people cannot be underestimated.”
The idea of having a counsellor who can assist racialized students came from a request from the student body in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020. As students grappled with the tragedy, a group reached out to UNBC President, Dr. Geoff Payne expressing the need for a counsellor who has lived experience with racism and mental health.
“I think it was a bit of a shock to many people at UNBC that racism is alive and well in our halls and classrooms,” Henley says.
Henley points out that mental illness has historically, and continues to be, weaponized against Indigenous, Black and People of Colour, which has created distrust in the traditional mental health community. Henley hopes by having a dedicated counsellor on staff who can speak to these issues, more students will reach out for help.
“When we see people who look like us, we feel more welcome in those spaces,” she says. “When you see someone that looks like you and has lived experience with racism and the impact on mental health, you realize that maybe you belong in that space too.”
In addition to Counselling Services, Henley also points to the First Nations Centre and Afro-Caribbean Student Association as welcoming communities that can help students navigate the post-secondary reality.
A Registered Social Worker, Henley is part of the team of counsellors at UNBC who provide client-centred, solution-focused care. She also brings her own story, culture and experiences to the job.
Henley is biracial with an African-American father and white mother. Her father was born in Texas in 1920 to parents who were sharecroppers and descendants of enslaved people. Part of her cultural norm is to use storytelling as a way to work through issues and stay connected with her community and this is something she brings to her practice.
“The counselling field and techniques are highly westernized. They don’t take into account the various ways that many cultures work through issues,” she says. “Sometimes I recognize my clients don’t need to come to a solution, they just need to vent, or they just need to talk about it. Often they literally need validation that they’re not making things up and what they’ve experienced is real.”
UNBC Counselling Services