Member Spotlight: Kerri

Member Spotlight,

Meet Kerri Gaskin!

KerriKerri (she/her/elle) grew up in New Brunswick & Nova Scotia, Canada and is now based in Southeast New Brunswick where she is a Licensed Counselling Therapist, Facilitator and Speaker at Coverdale Counselling & Consulting.

Tell us a bit about what you do at your organization. 
Connection is important and I openly share my real life on my social media – I want people to see the messiness and beauty in not living in highlight reels. I work really hard to model that sense of being perfectly imperfect and being more than okay with it…being downright proud of being a mom, a wife, an entrepreneur, a friend, and an occasional hot mess. In March 2020, recognizing that support would be needed during lockdown, I began a series of Facebook live events aimed at supporting community in navigating the challenges, fears, and unknowns of COVID-19. Over the next 24 months, more than 250 episodes of “Coffee, Conversation, and Compassion” would be broadcast – reaching audiences not just in NB but around the country and globally. Topics ranged from friendly check-ins and chats to deeper, more intense conversations around talking to kids about traumatic events, pandemic fatigue, systemic racism, social justice, and many more.

In my practice, I have mentored young people who want to become therapists and provided them with on-the-job training, co-op placements, and mentorship opportunities, offer free supervision to graduate students in clinical counselling, and mentorship for pre-licensed mental health professionals. I was blessed to have amazing mentors and role models and it is the least I can do to offer the same to young people in our community. In the last 2 yrs, I have also been active in national supervision of clinical interns and in developing standards of language and ethical practice in animal assisted therapies.

Among the services offered to the community are programs designed to support first responders and others in caring professions – specifically programs where the participants build resiliency and self-confidence and acquire the skills to cope with such stressors as professional burnout, vicarious and secondary traumatization, workplace bullying and harassment, unhealthy peer relationships, societal pressures, anxiety, and compassion fatigue. I am especially proud of the work I am doing with the Heroes Equine Learning Program which provides (completely free to participants) a 5-day residential equine therapy program for veterans and first responders suffering the impacts of PTSD.

Additional offerings of Coverdale Counselling & Consulting (CCC) have included workshops for the parents and caregivers of youth experiencing anxiety and depression; programs for caregiver burnout; group therapy for anger management, postpartum depression, complicated grief, PTSD, and living with mental illness; informational programs for caregivers of those living with mental illnesses; and residential retreats for PTSD and burnout.

In 2018, I partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association of NB to offer its first walk-in mental health service. I had done my clinical internship there and saw the need to provide care for people who are wait-listed for community mental health and who cannot afford private mental health services. Although I stepped away from my role at the clinic in the fall of 2019, I still reserve a percentage of my private counselling services pro bono for clients who cannot afford private care and offer a portion of seats in all my workshops for the same purpose. And in 2021 started offering "Free Clinic Thursdays" at my practice for anyone aged 18+ who cannot access mental health care services...we've managed to provide support for more than 400 individuals through this pro bono service.

Community partnerships have included a free mothering drop-in support group in Riverview; presenting on bullying at middle schools, anxiety at high schools, and body positivity to women’s groups. I have been a keynote speaker at an international summit on maternal mental health; an international symposium of women in payments; the NB First Responders’ Conference; and the BE Conference among others. And I have regularly presented at community groups, private organizations, and events including Riverview High School, Riverview Middle School, Hillside Mom2Mom, BellLetsTalk Day, Life With a Baby, Tango Medical, New Brunswick Nurses Association, Family Resource Centre, CMHA, and more.

Other community, regional, and national supports have included providing resources and workshops to various nurses’ unions across Canada addressing the issue of Pandemic Fatigue and Professional Burnout in Healthcare; addressing women in leadership positions combatting Imposter Syndrome; and speaking as a mental health expert to various local and national media on topics ranging from maternal mental health to PTSD.
Tell us more about yourself! 
I am a trauma therapist, entrepreneur, and speaker, yes, that’s all true.

I am also a proudly neurodivergent daughter, sister, niece, wife, and mother.

But it wasn’t always so….I wasn’t always proud of who I am.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t afraid of the dark.

I wasn’t afraid of the boogey man.
I wasn’t fraud of any of those things.
I was afraid of something much scarier.

I was raised in a small community where we used to joke that the population was 1000 including the pigs, chickens, cows, and horses.

While not entirely accurate, it was certainly not cosmopolitan and I was a big fish in a small pond. I was in EVERYTHING – choir, ballet, president of junior achievement, glee club, drama, editor of the school paper, student government, yearbook, school mascot, rode horses, I was on a tv series, a radio series, a record (yes, VINYL!), toured with a theatre company…

I was a joiner. A doer.

I was destined for greatness (so EVERYONE had told me).

** Full disclosure, at 6yrs old I wanted to be a ballet teacher doctor missionary who lived on a house boat so I definitely had big dreams!

EVERYONE said I was soooo confident. I could do ANYTHING

I was smart. Talented. Gifted. The Golden Child.
That’s what they all said.

And deep inside, I was certain that eventually they would figure out that it was all a big façade.

I wasn’t scared of any of the normal childhood things … I was scared of not being good enough. Just like so many other extraordinary women and girls.

My path led me so many other places (I did spend time teaching dance and hitchhiking and living on sailboats but those are stories for another day)

But on my journey, no matter my official title, I found I was always helping, counselling, coaching.

In 2015, while off work due to a back injury, I lost my job amidst multiple layoffs. I was angry, hurt, and confused. I was also intensely motivated. This is hard to say but for the previous few months, I had really only been "going through the motions" at work and not being the educator I knew I was ….. truth be told, I was in the midst of burnout - only I didn't know it at the time. At the same time, I was working on my master's degree and knew that it would be an important part of my new path.

Losing my job turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I was able to focus on my masters, be healthy during a difficult pregnancy, and be home after school for my oldest daughter who needed me to be present and connected for her.

In those months following my job loss, I determined that I would work harder than ever to become independent and autonomous so I would never have to depend on someone else for my livelihood but more importantly so I could be present for my family and not overworked, overstressed, and completely disconnected.

My work now is transformative and truly connected. I set my own schedule, work in areas that are important to me, and role model self-compassion for my clients and for my children

As an established leader in the community, I have provided for fee and pro bono counselling and consulting services to the region area since 2017 but Counselling is not my first career. In fact, it’s not even my second, third, or fourth. But it is my passion and my calling. I love to help people understand their complex inner lives and build the tools to cope and address their mental health concerns to live happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives.

With a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology I also have specialized training and certifications in Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Compassion Fatigue, Polyvagal Theory, Vicarious Trauma, Posttraumatic Growth, Child Trauma and Brain Development, Cognitive Neuroscience, Experiential Education, Somatic Processing, Mammalian Ethology, Borderline Personality Disorder, Canoeing and Kayaking, WFR, Behavioural Medicine, Trauma-Informed Care, Neurodivergent Therapies, and Emotional Regulation.

Since opening Coverdale Counselling in 2017, we have grown to include independently contracted therapists, interns, a human services counsellor, equine specialists, and even a few volunteers (not to mention the chickens, dogs, cats, and horses here at the farm)!

This growth has allowed me to increase the number of partnerships with community including Harvest House Atlantic, Anglophone School District-East, Social Development, New Brunswick Nurses Association, Broadleaf Ranch, Shining Horizons Therapeutic Riding Association, etc…

I LOVE innovation and being on the cutting edge of new research. As a result, we offer some pretty cool adjuncts to traditional talk therapy and in-office therapy

1) Online counselling sessions for those who cannot come into the office for various reasons (rural, unable to travel, small children at home, travelling for work, etc…) which was critical when we entered lockdown in March 2020 and has been a part of Coverdale Counselling since our founding in 2017
2) I am certified in 4 different Equine Assisted Psychotherapy modalities and offers therapeutic sessions at the family farm incorporating our herd of horses as a part of the therapy team
3) we incorporate Nature-based therapies at the farm including walk & talk and gardening therapy
4) I am a level one somatic practitioner and have spent the last 12 months in study of the intersection of horse and human trauma and how our very similar autonomic nervous systems respond to stressors

I care about the environment. Living on a farm provides a unique perspective to connecting and living in harmony with the natural environment. I believe we are called to be stewards and consider it a privilege to live and work on this land. To that end, we use solar lighting for our barn and exterior lighting, grow our own hay for feed, grow greens for our chickens, compost all manure for use on the farm, use the gray water from our hand-washing station for field irrigation, collect rainwater for the therapy garden, and have been sourcing composting toilets for the barn office.

On our social media, we share the stories, triumphs failures, excitement, and challenges of living a homestead lifestyle in rural New Brunswick. Our clients love coming to the farm and engaging in therapy but also get to see a sustainable family farm with gardens, orchards, freshwater streams, and healthy livestock.

One of my favourite activities has been providing free group equine therapy for the women from Harvest House's Women in Recovery Program each Wednesday for the last 2 years. We have built tremendous relationships and look forward to our time together. Many tears of joy have been shed to see the transformation in participants from their first visit to the farm to their last (6-9 months later). And the therapy is not just about working with horses, we have picked apples from our orchard to take back to the residence with them to make crisps and pies; gathered eggs for their breakfasts; foraged for chanterelle mushrooms and sweet fern; and had heartfelt conversations about rebuilding lives.

While we do offer traditional therapy, often, the therapeutic work is about building skills. Some of our clients come to their therapy sessions and want to learn about animal husbandry, gardening, foraging, or plant identification - we take all of this in stride and offer unique sessions designed for the individual which build on long-standing traditions of sustainability and respect for the land while helping the client build a toolbox of healthy coping strategies and practical life skills.

Being in the community and supporting community also involves mentoring. One of my favourite mentoring activities is to go to high schools and sit with teens and talk about anxiety, depression, and body positivity. I share my own experience so they can see that just because you experience one or all of those things, doesn’t mean you cannot be successful and happy…and they are NOT alone – they can feel connection.

What excites you when you think about the future of Experiential Education?
I think we are really seeing a pendulum swing back to learning by doing and by being immersive. I love that EE is leading the charge to be inclusive of neurodivergent learners and is trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive. Other fields could learn so much from EE!
As we become more aware of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a society I know that those of us who practice EE will be sought as the mentors for others to build safe & inclusive workplaces and places of learning.
It is extraordinary to see this work becoming not the outlier but the norm.
Who or what inspires you?
People that work tirelessly to support and lift up others inspire me.

One of those incredible women upon whose shoulders I stand is Ruth Schiller (1931-2023). It was 1978 and I was in First Grade

Like all the other children at Hillsborough Elementary, I dutifully lined up to make the journey from the elementary school to the high school music room and it was there that I first met Mrs. Schiller, Mrs. S., Ruth (although I didn’t dare to call her Ruth until I was about 40!)

And, like all the other children, I was invited (commanded really) to come to the piano and sing jingle bells as she plucked the melody out on that old upright.

“Bring your lunch tomorrow for choir rehearsal.”

There was no question of saying no. I showed up every day with all the others to practice – and to perfect!

One day, Mrs. S decided to give me a special job – “mascot” for the choir. She handed me a sheet of paper, sent me into one of the rehearsal rooms to practice the speech written on it until I had it memorized.

I was only 6 but Mrs. S saw something in me that I didn’t even know was there and my love for music and theatre was born.
She nurtured that love in me with concerts, plays, musicals, band…There was never a moment that I thought “I can’t” – we rehearsed, we practiced, we drilled it down because anything is possible.

And my family has been phenomenal. They’re foundational for me – that’s who built my character, who helped to form who I am today. I have amazing, close relationships with my family. My mom and my stepmom are incredible women who push me, support me, and make me want to be even a little bit like them.

And our two girls inspire me. They’re my reason and my purpose. They’re why I get up and do what I do every day. Our family life isn’t perfect, but our girls are incredible – they are passionate, funny, smart, and so caring. They inspire to be better, they inspire to do better and to make the world better so that they never have the struggles that I had when I was a child.

Girls matter. Women matter. We deserve to take up space. I am a mom to two amazing girls and I am so committed to making this town, this province, this country, this WORLD better for them. I am relentless in lifting other women up – you will NEVER hear me tear down a woman who does the same or similar work as me…they are not my competitors, they are my inspiration.
How long have you been involved with AEE?
I first learned about AEE when I attended an ACA training in NYC in 2000 in preparation for working as a Head Counsellor in upstate New York. I was so intrigued! In 2003, I decided to leave law school and study adventure recreation and became a member of AEE. I loved receiving my journals at the post office and pored over each issue gleaning as much information and new knowledge as possible. In 2007 I was finally able to attend a conference (NorthEast) and loved getting a first hand look at how incredible the organization truly is.
What is the most rewarding part about being a Member of AEE?
Looking to other outstanding humans for inspiration. I read every email, journal, social media post...I love learning about the achievements, benchmarks, and innovation being celebrated in this field. As a trauma therapist and professional development facilitator, the TAPG has been especially inspiring and motivational for my work.
Anything else we should know?
So a little bit more about me… Did you know that I have lived and worked in New York and Paris? Yeah. Me, a local girl from rural Albert County spent time soaking in the atmosphere on the Left Bank and kicking back in the Village. Oh how I love cities. And now I live on a farm. Yes, some days I am wearing high heels and lipstick and loving it. But a lot of days it is muck boots and a ball cap. I love my farm life. I love that I get to live and work on the land that was farmed by my great-great grandparents. I love that my kids pick apples from the trees my great grandparents planted. I love waking to the sounds of our roosters, Klaus & Fluffy (their actual names) … we also have 23 hens, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 4 horses, and 2 awesome kiddos. I love knowing that the bulk of the meals that our children eat is prepared by my hands often from foods that I have grown. I love walking to the barn, hearing the deep breaths of our horses, leaning in for that special and comforting smell that can only be found on a horse’s muzzle or on his neck. I love that this is the life I have chosen. I love the farm and I love the city. I walk the line between worlds. And maybe I always have.

Find Kerri here:
instagram - @coverdalecounselling
Facebook - Coverdale Counselling

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