Empowering the community

Jas Hundal

As the eldest child of immigrant parents and a first-generation Canadian, Jas Hundal remembers helping her elders navigate the healthcare system by being their translator at medical appointments and completing forms for family friends and relatives.

This passion for helping others developed when her father was ill and admitted to a local hospital. The social worker who took on her father’s case helped the family feel supported by explaining hospital procedures, sharing information about local programs, and also connecting them with community resources.

This experience inspired Jas and she knew that she wanted to become a social worker and provide services to the community.

In 2004, Jas “embarked on a journey of change” and enrolled in the Social Work program at the University of Victoria.

“My educational endeavours were able to solidify the foundation of my role as a helping professional. Throughout my career, I had the opportunity to work with my community and attempt to address significant societal issues. Here is where I learned valuable lessons about how important it is to be adaptive and offer support by centering South Asian experiences. I feel that part of my role, as a counsellor is to decolonize therapy and actively engage with my clients through a holistic perspective. This means not centering Western perspectives and being vocal about systemic barriers that keep clients from receiving services,” explain Jas.

She adds that her vision is to empower members of the South Asian community and support them in learning healthier ways to cope.

This vision is tied to Sikhism and the teachings of the ten gurus, who she learned about as a young child while attending Punjabi school at Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver.

Two concepts that really resonated with Jas during this time were “chardi kala” and “sarbat da bhala.”
While “chardi kala” encourages individuals to maintain a cheerful and positive outlook and demeanour,
“sarbat da bhala” urges them to pray and wish for the prosperity of all human beings.

“The sense of living your life in high spirits, fighting through oppression, helping others, and being of services to your community are very important to me. In difficult times in my life, I have gained strength by being optimistic and accepting my hardships as lessons in life instead of failures,” explains Jas.
Due to their commitment towards upholding their rich culture and maintaining strong familial ties, Jas sees these same values inherent within members of the South Asian community.

At the same time, she recognizes the fact that there are also discriminatory practices, gender bias and negative beliefs that are prevalent within the culture that need to be addressed and changed.

As a social worker, Jas aims to disrupt and dismantle the patriarchal, sexist, and discriminatory beliefs that have seeped into the South Asian culture through intersections such as colonization, migration, and racism.

She targets these issues by guiding and teaching clients about them. She says that using this approach is beneficial as it empowers and encourages them to achieve resilience by focusing on their positive qualities and attributes.

Jas also reiterates the importance of tailoring counselling services to the needs of an individual.
“A long time ago, someone once told me do not try to force a square peg into a round hole. I feel that in order for therapy to work and be meaningful, I have an obligation to assist clients navigate barriers to support. As a practitioner, I cannot expect my clients to adhere to therapy that fails to encompass their lived experiences. South Asian culture is vast, complicated, nuanced and sometimes seen as problematic when it’s compared to western culture. However, I feel that South Asian culture is rich, beautiful, and so
resilient that when the community comes together there is no limit to what we can achieve,” she explains.

Jas adds that understanding cultural nuances as well as the different meanings that can be associated with words when they are translated from one language to another are important to aspects that counsellors must consider when working with clients.

“How we communicate, verbally and non-verbally is essential to our understanding. The focus is not just to interpret words from one language to another, but also check for understanding. There may be issues with translation, when practitioners are unable to translate words from the English language to Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, etc. The same words passed from one language to another can have a very different meaning. It’s not only about choosing the right words, but there is a deeper knowledge of the culture required to convey accurately the meaning of the original content.

Besides having 15 years of experience within the helping profession, Jas owns her own counselling practice called Jasbir Hundal Counselling Services (JHCS).

The clinic provides counselling services to individuals, couples and families within the BC and Alberta area and is staffed by individuals who can speak Punjabi.

Jas indicated that when she began working as Social Worker, she experienced a lot of backlash from her own community, due to mistrust in government agencies, her young age was also a barrier as people thought she didn’t have the life experience and clients were apprehensive about sharing their family ‘secrets’.

“I spent a lot of time educating South Asian clients about confidentiality, building rapport and then introducing new concepts as a way for them to add to their existing communication and coping skills”. This helped in breaking the barriers, and clients expressed that they felt supported by Jas and felt that she explained things to them in a way that they were empowered to make an informed decision”

Jas also has a background in coaching and facilitation. She was an instructor in the Community Corrections Justice Division at the Justice Institute of BC. Here she strengthened her skills in conflict resolution, leadership and executive functioning. Jas provides coaching services internationally and develops a customized plan with the client that is direct, efficient and a solution focused approach.

As a counsellor, Jas primarily works with adults between the ages of 25-45 and believes that individuals who are a part of this generation are “motivated to improve their life, start addressing their experiences and break the cycle.” In order to determine their needs, Jas does an initial assessment with every client before matching them with a service provider.

Besides providing counselling, Jas has also supervises practicum students from Yorkville University and Sprott Shaw Community College. This experience has allowed over 50 individuals to receive free counselling services over the last three years. The ability to provide these services was especially advantageous and essential during the pandemic, when requests for counselling increased.

In early 2022, Jas was also provided with an opportunity to work with psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang as a Clinical Director with Future-ready Minds ™.

The opportunity to work with Dr. Kang and expand services for children and families was exciting for Jas as she often referred Dr. Kang’s books as resources for parents.

In her role as Clinical Director, Jas is tasked with coordinating referrals and providing clinical support to other counsellors. “I am very passionate about collaborative practice and thrilled to have a diverse team of psychologists, social workers and counsellors at Future-ready Minds who work directly with parents, teachers and children.” The approach with Future-ready Minds ™ is early education and to support children and their families to develop resilience, connection and innovation.

When asked about her future plans, Jas says that she aims to expand JHCS by providing services to individuals within different provinces “through a holistic, strength-based approach.”

She also shares her thoughts on the South Asian community, continued growth, the continued emergence of health care workers of South Asian descent, and the importance of counselling:
“It is going to take time and space for our community to heal and learn healthier ways of coping. We have tremendous strength in our community and the connection to each other, relatives and our culture can be our support. I am comforted to see that there is a growing number of health professionals that are of South Asian descent. These individuals in my eyes are heroes, as they have chosen to work through their own traumas while they simultaneously advocate for and work with the South Asian community”.

For those who are curious about therapy but don’t know where to start, Jas recommends booking an initial consultation, reviewing the credentials of the counsellor and asking questions about the services being offered”. Many people are reluctant to start counselling because they don’t know what to expect.

Jas explains, “feeling nervous about therapy is not only normal, it’s expected—especially if it’s your first time. In our culture often we are expected to keep things private, keep up appearances, and not share How we are feeling. Therapy is the exact opposite. You have the opportunity to talk about your feelings, sharing your experience with a professional and not put on an act-but be authentic and not feel judged”. It can be a huge relief to talk to a counsellor whose job it is to listen, express empathy and have your best interest at heart.

Think about it—on one level, therapy is a pretty strange relationship. You’re expected to spill your guts to a perfect stranger, trusting that they will get you, have empathy for you, and be able to help you cope with the difficult situation that brought you to counseling in the first place.

“Be open with the counsellor about your concerns and determine if they are the right person to work with you”, suggests Jas.

“I would [also] like to request for all the readers, that therapy is there for you to learn new ways to cope. You don’t have to carry the burden of your worries and seeing a counsellor can help you. I know that talking about private issues can be difficult and is something that many of us may not be comfortable with at first. Seeing a counsellor is not a sign of weakness, but rather an opportunity to have a discussion with a professional that is equipped with the tools to support you in achieving a healthier life. In order to help others, we have to start being more compassionate towards ourselves.”