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Mental Health Discussion Café

Facilitator Training Program

On the afternoon of Saturday, February 23, 2008 we held our first community philosophical discussion café focused primarily on mental health and mental healthcare related issues, in conjunction with the Tri-Cities Advocacy Group for Mental Health and Addictions, which includes the New View Society, Tri-Cities Mental Health and Addictions Services, SHARE Society, Riverview Hospital, and the Fraser Health Authority.

In order to develop facilitators for this and future groups, we have begun a training program in the philosophy department at the University College of the Fraser Valley (UFV) for senior-level students eager to apply their education in both psychology and philosophy in a real-world setting. Many of them have taken my upper-level course titled “Philosophy for Counsellors” in which we discuss the application of philosophy to life problems, with many examples from my experiences as a philosophical counsellor. Although each of the eight students involved in this project initially volunteered their time and energy, UFV has granted them course credits, and also made work-study money available to them.

The training program consisted of six weeks of two-hour seminars once a week in which we discussed various issues relevant to the facilitation of a group discussion (such as the various types of participants and how to deal with them), applied philosophy (such as reasoning strategies and fallacies), and clinical psychology (mental health, mental illness, and treatment modalities). We also attempted to role-play a café discussion, but this didn’t work out very well because the customary classroom dynamic between students and professor kept interfering. It was decided that, given my eight years’ past experience at café facilitation, I would lead the first café so that the students could observe and learn. The plan was to have two hours of discussion with a twenty minute coffee break in the middle.

Present at the café were all eight of my students and more than a dozen members of the community consisting of mental health care “consumers,” family members, friends, and advocacy group administrators. Discussion topics were suggested and then one was selected by means of a vote. The topic actually consisted of an amalgamation of a number of the suggested topics all loosely related to the issue of the stigma surrounding mental illness. The discussion was both lively and intense at times. And although I had suggested to the students that they limit their participation in the discussion, they were invited to do so by the other participants. I had also suggested that I should only facilitate the first hour, and a student should do the second. But the students decided they would rather observe me for the full two hours, and two students would then share the duties of joint facilitator the following month. Currently the café is meeting once a month, but the group may change that to more frequent meetings in the future.

The Coquitlam Mental Health Philosophy Discussion Cafe meets at 1 PM on the third Saturday of each month at the Pinetree Community Centre, 1260 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam, B.C. For information please contact Teresa Spurr by e-mail

The Chilliwack Cafe meets at 1 PM at the Evergreen Hall 9291 Corbould Street, Chilliwack, BC. For more information please contact Scott at 604-793-4906 or by e-mail


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