The field of psychology is wide ranging and touches on innumerable subjects in the public discourse. To add the perspectives of psychologists to topical issues, CPA has launched the podcast Mind Full. Listen below for subjects that are important to Canadians, delivered through a psychological lens.
Mind Full Soundcloud
Psychologists, students, and others with psychology backgrounds, are doing incredible things across Canada. Here, we highlight just a few of those people who are helping others and living interesting professional, and personal, lives of their own.
It was September 2007 and Melissa Tiessen had just begun her year long post-doctoral residency with the University of Manitoba’s Rural and Northern Psychology Programme, where her primary supervisor was Dr. Karen Dyck. Melissa was no stranger to rural and northern living, as she grew up in a northern Manitoba community. Karen was one of the first psychologists hired into the Rural and Northern Psychology Programme in 1997. Although Karen wasn’t raised in a rural or northern community, she was from Manitoba, and her interest in rural and northern psychology came about during the completion of her doctoral degree in clinical psychology at the University of South Dakota; a program that specialized in community and cross-cultural psychology. Little did Melissa and Karen know at the time, that this would be only the start of a long-term relationship that would move from supervisor-supervisee, to colleagues, to friends, and eventually to co-founders of Intentional Therapist.
During the 15-year span of their relationship, Dr. Melissa Tiessen and Dr. Karen Dyck shared many professional experiences, from working within the public health system in rural Manitoba to eventually moving to private practice. Although Melissa left Manitoba in 2010, they continued to connect with one another and have in-person visits when their travels took them to similar locations. It was during one of these visits in Manitoba in 2018, when Melissa and Karen began discussing self-care, burnout, and many of the issues affecting psychologists and other mental health professionals. Having worked in both the public and private healthcare systems, they observed and experienced firsthand, some of the challenges mental health professionals can experience related to self-care. They reflected on how these challenges can be similar across all mental health professionals but that there may also be some unique challenges related, for example, to the work setting (e.g., rural and northern mental health clinicians may experience equally impactful but different challenges than their urban counterparts) and gender.
And so it was that Melissa and Karen came up with the idea of The Intentional Therapist, an online community that provides resources, workshops, newsletters, and – most importantly – connections to other female mental health professionals. The reason they chose to focus on female practitioners specifically is that, in addition to the pressures and stresses that affect all mental health professionals, women face a few extra hurdles. Melissa explains,
“The biggest factor that affects female mental health professionals in terms of self-care challenges is gender socialization. Many women grow up from the day they’re born being exposed to different messages than those who identify as male. These messages are very much about taking care of others, doing for others, and prioritizing others. Sometimes it can be good to put others’ needs before your own, but that can create a scenario where a girl becomes a woman and goes into a care-taking profession. She has been receiving these messages about taking care of others in her personal life, and now it is part of her professional life as well. It can then become very difficult to do what one needs to take care of oneself.”
This gender socialization has become even more scrutinized during the past two years during the pandemic. Women, including those with high-paying professional careers, have often found themselves taking on more archaic gender roles. The work of men has, in many cases, become more prioritized while the work of women becomes diminished in order to take on caregiving roles for children or elderly parents.
Karen is a caregiver to elderly parents as well as a clinical psychologist in private practice in Oakbank, Manitoba. She says that work and caregiving are not the only places where there is a discrepancy. Leisure time for women has also, historically, been tied to their partner’s leisure time. As men’s status and income improved, they had more access to leisure. Women’s leisure then became tied to that of their partner, and they were often not entitled to their own spare time on their own terms. Leisure activities being so important for self-care, this can make taking time for oneself even more difficult.
So what does that self-care look like? For Karen and Melissa it comes down to the four C’s. The first is ‘connection’ (like the network of like-minded mental health professionals that form the Intentional Therapist). The second is ‘compassion’ (toward oneself, toward your clients). The third is ‘courage’ (meaning doing something that may cause you discomfort). For many mental health professionals, any discussion around money can feel awkward. But raising your fees, for example, might be a necessity. Having that initial uncomfortable conversation can make future conversations of a similar nature much easier.
The final C is ‘creativity’. As Karen says, self-care involves a lot more than just chocolates and a bubble bath. Creativity and a playful attitude can help people find humour in their every day lives and discover activities that help them cope. These activities, and this outlook, is different from person to person. While Karen and Melissa happen to share a love for cake decorating, that certainly isn’t the case for everyone.
For some it might be running, for others painting, and for others it may be weaving plastic bags into doormats (like Melissa did during the pandemic). The important thing is that self-care is intentional. That it is made a priority, and that it remains important day in and day out. Hence The ‘Intentional’ Therapist. Melissa and Karen’s initiative is meant to be pro-active, to reach practitioners before they start to see the symptoms of burnout. Their newsletter, workshops (including a pre-convention workshop at this year’s CPA Convention), and network of female mental health professionals is intended to serve as a kind of regular reminder. You are important too – and in order to provide great care for your clients, you must also take great care of yourself.
Marjolaine Rivest-Beauregard and Justine Fortin
Montréal psychology students Marjolaine Rivest-Beauregard and Justine Fortin created the podcast Sors de ma tête to combat disinformation and to make science accessible for non-scientists toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They joined the CPA podcast Mind Full to discuss their work, which has branched out a little bit as they get ready to launch their third season.
Knowledge translation is a rare skill, not necessarily inherent in most people pursuing a scientific discipline. Being good at knowledge translation means you have to have the knowledge base in your subject matter, but also a communication style that can engage people outside that scientific bubble to want to learn more about that subject. Knowledge translation also requires an ability to take a 10,000-foot view of scientific information. What would regular people like to know? How do I explain this to them while still being as accurate as possible to the source material? What words might I use that would lose my audience, and what seemingly complex terminology and concepts might be grasped intuitively?
One of the best ways for people working in scientific disciplines to become good knowledge translators is – as it is with all skills that can be honed – practice. It was with that in mind that Marjolaine Rivest-Beauregard and Justine Fortin embarked on their passion project – explaining difficult psychological concepts and studies to the general public in an effort to combat online disinformation.
Justine and Marjolaine are about to launch the third season of their French-language podcast Sors De Ma Tête. Montréal psychology students and colleagues, they began this project in 2021 with an eye toward COVID and the disinformation surrounding it. They wanted to collect the data they had on COVID, then sit down with two other people. An expert to talk about the science, and someone with a large public platform to speak directly to people.
Justine is at UQAM, Marjolaine is at McGill, and they met thanks to the supervisor they had in common, Dr. Alain Brunet. Dr. Brunet of course became the first guest on the program (see the CPA’s podcast Mind Full, where the first guest was CEO Dr. Karen Cohen) to discuss the emotional reactions people were having to COVID and to lockdowns. The other guest on their first episode was Instagram content creator Cassandra Bouchard. Cassandra posts funny videos online and speaks about mental health issues – toxic relationships, quitting smoking, eating disorders – that sort of thing.
The process for choosing an online influencer to join Sors de ma tête is probably a more arduous one than the process for choosing the expert. After all, it’s clear who has the expertise in most subject matter – but for people who have a following and discuss mental health issues on their platforms, it’s a little tougher to narrow down who has both the competency and the communication ability to be part of the bridge to the public. Marjolaine says there are a few essential traits each person must have.
- They talk openly and often about mental health
- They are willing to speak openly about their own stories and experiences
- They are available on the day and time the podcast is going to be recorded!
Justine says they also look at the following of the people they invite. She says “we’re not known by people 18-35 years old, so people with large followings are great – our goal is to reach the most people we can”. She also says a lot of this comes down to personality and energy. She tries to find people with similar energy levels who match well in a public discussion like a podcast. Finding the right expert to pair with the right content creator can be a difficult exercise in itself, but can produce some very rewarding content. Says Justine,
“One of my absolute favourite episodes was the last one we did in 2022 [‘Trahison amoureuse avec Michelle Lonergan et Marie Gagné’]. We had so much fun, we were laughing the whole time, talking about betrayals we had lived through, the crushes we had as kids. It’s a bit of a sad subject but the conversation was light and super enjoyable.”
From here, Marjolaine’s main focus is on research. She hopes to get her doctorate degree and pursues research into the mental health effects of disasters and crises, with a focus on prevention. She is imagining a side gig as a crisis management consultant, someone who helps to mobilize the response to a disasters (the earthquake in Turkey, the recent tragedy in Laval) in a scientifically sound and evidence-based way.
Justine’s career path, at least as she sees it from here, is a little different. She is focusing on both research and clinical work, and hopes to one day open a clinic as a neuropsychologist. She really wants to continue working with people who have been diagnosed with cancer, and talks with passion about ‘chemo brain’ and the other issues affecting people in cancer treatment. She want to continue doing research as well, saying “I don’t want to be a professor, as such, but I’d love to keep doing research. Maybe in Marjo’s lab!”
It would be great to think that for years to come, these two partners and collaborators will continue to work together on projects big and small. The third season of Sors de ma tête will launch very soon, and while Justine and Marjolaine are cagey about the content this year, they let slip that climate change will be a big front-and-centre subject in 2023.
It’s unclear right now how long the podcast will last. Will it be a project they keep up until the end of school? The end of COVID? Maybe much longer? Only time will tell. The one thing we can say for certain is that people like Justine and Marjo, the people who have put in the time and the practice, will be the knowledge translators of the future. The people who can bridge the gap between scientists and the public, who can push governments to make decisions based on hard data and otherwise unknown studies. With the Sors de ma tête podcast, they’ve already spent two years doing just that.