For the last sixty years, Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) has provided quality services to people with disabilities and their families and has continued to re-invent its services to ensure that people experience their best possible lives.

In the process of ever rethinking our services, our leadership team realized that people we support did not often have access to professional counselling services. Therefore, they decided to embark on a pilot project entitled, Guidance Counselling Services, as the title suggests, to provide guidance to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, going through a difficult time, dealing with addictions, facing an important decision or just needing to speak to someone.

A very important part of the pilot project was to determine how to staff the position and ensure that the counsellor acted in ways that were consistent with SHS’s philosophy of person-centred thinking and respect.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to look too far. It just happened that a long-time employee, Shabnam Khan, who also had her own successful counselling practice in Surrey, came forward and expressed an interest to integrate her professional practice into her work at SHS. So, we made her an offer, and, fortunately for us and the people we support, she accepted without hesitation.

Being a Personal Development Worker herself, Shab knew that participants struggled with life’s challenges like anyone else, but she was surprised to learn that some of them had been grieving for years, without having their anguish subside. Family members and friends were reluctant to speak to them about the difficult events, because they did not know how to introduce the subject and were afraid to create more hurt. “People had nowhere to go with their grief and felt isolated,” says Shab. “People can be vulnerable when they experience death. One person I know lost three loved ones in one year. That takes a toll on anyone.”

Shab, determined to perform her new role and help people, went to work and established a referral and intake process that would ensure people received the services they needed in a confidential manner. Her counselling services would address relationship building, communications, feelings of anger, poor self-esteem, sadness, conflict resolution, coping with stress and anxiety and planning for the future. After she launched the program, people booked appointments and came to tell their story in the safe space that she created for them.  Shab said, “It’s really important that the counsellor sees the person as a person and listens without judgement and bias. What the counsellor is really doing is having a conversation to facilitate life planning for the person. If done properly, this process enhances self-esteem and improves relationships and communications.”

The project went underway and the feedback was positive. People looked forward to sharing their stories and related that they felt seen and heard. Staff, family members and home share providers were impressed with the positive changes that occurred in them as a result of counselling. One participant stated, “It felt good talking about stress and other things.” Another said, “It was easy to talk to Shab, because I felt comfortable and I felt I could trust her.”

The Guidance Counselling project was a huge success and people said they wanted more of it. As a result, we will continue to provide counselling services to people supported by SHS. Please share this blog to inform people that this program is available to people who need it. For more information, contact Shab at

By Louise Tremblay, Director of Development at UNITI

UNITI is the partnership of three affiliated non-profit societies that work together to provide inclusive community services: Semiahmoo House Society, Peninsula Estates Housing Society and The Semiahmoo Foundation.

Semiahmoo House Society provides quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families. Peninsula Housing Estates Society provides affordable and inclusive housing that reflects the diversity of our community. The Semiahmoo Foundation assures that UNITI has the recognition, relationships and resources to support an inclusive community. Together, we’re stronger!

Leave a Reply