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COMMUNITY MINISTRIES

Meet Heather Fawcett: Executive Director of the Ottawa Pastoral Counselling Centre

Heather Fawcett is the new executive director of the Ottawa Pastoral Counselling Centre. She kindly took time to talk with Crosstalk in June as she was settling into her new role, succeeding longtime director Sharon York. Here are some excerpts of our conversation.

The executive director of the OPC requires a diverse range of skills as a practicing psychotherapist and as an administrator and leader guiding a non-profit organization. What kinds of experiences prepared you for those very different roles?

I worked for 16 years at Christian Counselling in Ottawa (CCO) as a psychotherapist, so I have a strong footing in psychotherapy, a strong base from which to work, lots of experience. I actually got my Master’s degree back in ‘91 and I didn’t use it until 2007 when I started at CCO.

I have also worked in the business world. I had the great privilege of working for the Stratford Festival of Canada and at the Toronto Stock Exchange. I’ve been an HR manager for an insurance company. I’ve worked in individual or consumer and corporate sales for what was then Cantel and now Rogers, so a lot of varied business experience as well.

What did you do at the Stratford Festival?

I worked in the Toronto Development Office, on the Stratford Express…the premier fundraiser for the Stratford Festival. It was a massive undertaking. It took an entire year to plan and execute because we had a private VIA train and we had a raffle from Tiffany’s, plus we had the silent auction, plus we had a catered dinner on the way out to Stratford and then we had the shuttle buses to get us to the theatre for the opening night of the musical which was Fiddler on the Roof, and then we’d get everybody back [with food and wine] on the way home. So many moving parts, it was incredible.

I think [that  fundraising experience] will be helpful in doing some of the fundraising and promotions that we want to do for the OPC. We have the Counselling Support Fund … So many people don’t have [healthcare benefits through their work] and counselling is not inexpensive, so to be able to help counselling be accessible to the broader community is a huge passion of mine.

When did your interest in psychotherapy begin?

I was working in group homes… with young offenders and wards of CAS [Children’s Aid Society]. I was a house parent … a live-in position. I was often taking my young charges to appointments with social workers or psychiatrists, and at some point I thought, … maybe I want to be the person, not taking the person to the appointment, but the person who’s going to be holding the appointment. Maybe I want to be the person who can work with a population that really does want to make changes in their lives. The people I was working with weren’t necessarily interested… in being introspective, self-aware, thinking about what brought them to that place, how they could improve their lives. Probably about two-thirds just wanted to serve their time and get out….I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to work with somebody who really did want to make a change?’ So I got my Master’s in Counselling [from Providence University College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne, Man.]

My mom has always told me that my favorite question growing up was ‘Why?’ We think one of the biggest jokes in the world is that I get paid to ask, “Why? How come? Well, what’s that about?” It used to drive her crazy and now I get paid to do it. She just finds that hilarious.

What drew you to this position with the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa?

That one I can answer in one word, and it’s ministry.…I could go into private practice, charge $160 or $180 an hour, and make lots of money. Psychotherapy for me is about ministry, and the OPC is about ministry. It’s an opportunity to minister to hurting people whether they believe in God or whether they don’t. Hurting people are hurting people. And God’s simply given me the abilities to be good at what I do, to be good at psychotherapy. And so I share those. That is my passion and … my calling all my life…so that was the biggest thing.

And the second piece of that was the opportunity to work in a team of very capable and talented psychotherapists… as well as with the team at the ADO [diocese]. The people at the Ascension House have been nothing but warm and gracious and kind and supportive….To be able to work in that kind of a collaborative environment is something that I very much want.

How do you see the OPC growing in the future?

Right now, we have seven therapists because Sharon in her retirement has decided to continue to see clients, and we just hired two more therapists, so I don’t know how much more we want to grow at this point. One thing I do want is to work more with First Nations groups…. At CCO, we had strong alliance with the Cree Board of Health, and I’m thinking there are First Nation peoples that I hope that we could introduce ourselves to and be of service to them. But other than that, I just need to wait, get to know the organization better before I can make any determinations of how else we might consider growing. So, the growth of the Counselling Support Fund and the involvement in the First Nations community, those are two goals.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

One of my favorite things to do is to pack up our backpacks and take the canoe into the interior of Algonquin or Killarney or in one of the provincial parks. and you just go. We make our own beef jerky and just live for a week out. I just love that… I like rock climbing and hiking and cycling. And I’m a bit of a social butterfly. I just like getting together with people.…

I enjoy travelling whether across Canada or internationally, I am a very curious person.…I like to go and explore and see and do.

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