‘A public health issue’: Trauma support group changes name and expands services to help more people


A Winnipeg non-profit organization providing support to victims of childhood sexual abuse is expanding the scope of its services to better address what its executive director calls “a public health problem” for which the need exceeds far the amount of available resources.

Heather Leeman runs the Heartwood Healing Centre, which until this week was known as The Laurel Centre. Leeman told CTV Morning Live that the center’s renaming comes as part of a move to expand, allowing it to help heal the trauma of childhood sexual abuse, no matter who experienced it.

“In the past, we mainly focused on serving women. One of the techniques we have implemented is that we now serve all people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. We recognize that gender isn’t binary, and we’re just trying to step away from that kind of male-female binary and really connect with everyone who’s been through (abuse),” Leeman said.

A key component of Heartwood’s services is its commitment to providing those it serves with long-term trauma therapy, which can last up to two years. Leeman stressed the importance of ensuring that this long-term program remains free to those who need it.

“We strongly believe that people have the right to free services to heal from this form of trauma. Abuse can affect anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, lived experience or cultural identity,” Leeman said.

The center’s new name is a metaphor for the healing journey that clients undertake and what Leeman describes as the resilience that all clients possess, often without realizing it.

“Heartwood is the center of the wood. It is the strongest part of the wood and it is the part of the wood that supports the growth of the outer layers of the tree. This means a lot because we see the strength in all people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and we see ourselves as people who support those growing up with their transitions.


The centre, on Roslyn Road in the village of Osborne, offers those it serves an inviting atmosphere for those who have been abused, and there’s a good reason for that, according to Mira Woods, a staff member at the center.

“There is a lot of shame and stigma surrounding their experience and history of abuse, so it is very important that our center is a welcoming space for them. It’s a space where they can decide what their needs are and kind of go through their healing journey with us,” Woods said.

Leeman says the center has heard from current and former clients and community members about the need for post-treatment programs and supports, and it is rolling out new programs that help clients stay connected even after. the end of therapy. A full list of services provided by the Heartwood Healing Center can be found on their website.

-with files from CTV’s Rachel Lagacé

Virginia S. Braud