James Cowan has a long family history in Port Alberni with roots going back just after World War II. His mother, Alison, is known for her teaching at the family dance studio, the former Pat Cummings School of Dance that was established in 1953. It was from the past that inspired James to pursue his goal of opening up his own counselling practice and give back to the community as a volunteer.
“It was wonderful to see my grandmother and mother do so many positive things for kids and families,” James said. “That’s where I caught the bug for my love of kids.”
After graduating from ADSS, James enrolled in UVIC to attain his Major in Psychology and Minors in Philosophy and Anthropology. Initially, he intended to go into law so he could make a career out of helping people.
“But a few years into it, my friend died in a car accident,” he said. “His family welcomed me into the grieving process and I saw how the First Nation community responded to death. It showed me I wouldn’t be able to help people the way I wanted to with a Law degree.”
From there, he gained experience working as a residential care worker for children, as well as in other positions with youth, until completing his Master’s in Counselling Psychology from City University of Seattle.
Much of his past experience clinched his resolve to continue his career and life path helping people.
“A big part of it was seeing how my family worked with people,” James said. “At my grandmother’s funeral, Janis Joseph came up to my mom and I and said, ‘Your grandmother not only taught me to work hard and not take guff from anyone, but she also taught me how to be a lady,’.”
James also said he learned a lot during his twenty years as a rugby player.
“It keeps me honest and focused,” he said. “I love to coach and have been coaching elementary and middle school rugby for the past few years. Last year we had more than 450 kids go through the program.”
It was also his practicum at a clinic in downtown Victoria that helped him lay the grounds for how he set up his own practice. It was only one of three clinics in the city that offered pro bono or a generous fee reduction for services.
He said it is sometimes difficult for people who are struggling with life to find affordable and quality service.
“It was a safe site,” he said. “Some people I worked with had been wanting help for a long time but felt like they had not been engaged with or that there was no one out there to help.”
Often he does not see the results of his work, but other times, they show up in unexpected ways.
“I get so much joy out of my practice when I see someone go from being so hurt and damaged by the world to feeling so good about themselves,” he said. “It is so awesome to see someone so many years later at the grocery store and they tell you they just got their degree.”
He also hopes that with the recent campaigns about mental health, the message starts to change from being taboo to something to talk about and for which to reach out for help.
James feels it is important to walk the walk and talk the talk, so he makes it a priority to share his skills and knowledge. As a member of the Young Professionals Alberni Valley, he is looking forward to finding a way of being a part of the truth and reconciliation process.
“I am eagerly anticipating what the City will say,” James said. “We have to be there, participate, and show up. I am anxious to see how I can do that on a personal and professional level.”
He is also an active volunteer with Alberni Pride and is working on this year’s Pride Fest on July 23.
“I have been supported by the community in so many ways,” James said. “I have seen the generosity and had many ‘mentor moments’ as a kid. It is important to help children and youth start their lives off the best way possible.”
For more information, check out James’ practice, Tall Tree Counselling and Consulting on Facebook.