Member Spotlight: Calgary Women’s Health Collective


Each month we’ll feature a CommunityWise member group so that you can get to know them better!

February 2017

Calgary Women’s Health Collective (Tenant Member)

Interviewer: Valerie Stitchman, CommunityWise practicum student

Interviewee: Sanni-Ilona Paljakka, Therapist, Calgary Women’s Health Collective

  1. What is the name of your organization?

We are known as the Calgary Women’s Health Collective (CWHC).

  1. Can you summarize what your organization’s main objectives are? What is your mission/vision/value(s) that your organization abides by?

We are a counselling agency, so folks come to speak to us about their most pressing questions, dilemmas, and experiences of suffering. It is our vision to provide a safer(!) space for people to engage in these conversations in ways that make them stronger. This means that we seek to question the social and cultural contexts of problem stories and to place people’s expertise of how they wish to live at the centre of these conversations. So one could say that our mission is to disrupt problem stories, and to listen for, ask and write about counter stories that might make living more possible again!

  1. How has your organization changed over time?

The CWHC was founded by our “grandmothers” (I have permission to call them that in the spirit of respect) in 1987 in this very building upon a strong feminist vision. We have always been interested in the social and cultural contexts that serve to support problems and in the ways in which oppression and power relations come to affect all of us. Over time, we have come to align with principles and practices of Narrative therapy to give a therapeutic language to this feminist ethic.

  1. What is it like working at the CWHC? What is a typical day?

We currently have 2 offices at the CommunityWise Resource Centre and we meet with clients here. When we are here, we are conversing with people, or writing letters and reflections and poetry to people about our conversations. We, the therapists, also make it a priority to meet with each other as a group for consultation and collaborative conversations to support each other in making ourselves useful to clients.

  1. What are some challenges working at the CWHC that you’ve encountered so far?

​Our most pressing wish is to make ourselves of use to people and our most pressing concern is the experience of constraints to this wish. This work comes with a deep sense of account-ability to the people we wish to serve. This encompasses our reflection processes about our conversations but also wider concerns about accessibility and affordability of our services. We are constantly seeking for ways to adjust in order to be there for people in a respectful way, be that through our sliding fee scale, the addition of women’s groups at lower costs, etc.

      6.  Are there any new projects you are currently working on?

Yes! Traditionally, therapy is often practiced in a one-on-one format and this is still what we do. But we have expanded our vision to include group therapy conversations, couples therapy conversations, and other witnessing practices to help all of us step away from this idea of problems as individual and private sufferings. We are really excited about this!

We are also deeply involved in collaborations with therapists around the city to offer workshops, trainings, and a general platform for workers in this field to come together and reflect on our work together.

      7. Is your organization hosting any events in the near future that folks might be interested in?

Yes! We have invited some very cool speakers to come teach some workshops this year: One is a workshop entitled “3 Days of Re-Imagining With Tom Stone Carlson” on January 26-28.

The other is an intensive training with Angel Yuen entitled “Responding to Trauma” from May 8-10.

The Calgary Women’s Health Collective also hosts a monthly “Narrative Gathering” for practitioners who want to support each other in their work and who enjoy the free exchange of ideas located at CommunityWise Resource Centre.

      8. Where can folks go for more information about your organization?

Our website offers more details about who we are, what we strive for, narrative therapy, the history of the CWHC as well as projects and events we are collaborating or co-hosting.

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