Psychology Month Profile: Dr. Marvin McDonald, Dr. Tanya Mudry, Dr. Janet Miller, Dr. Houyuan (Hy) Luo, and Dr. Jessica Van Vliet, Counselling Psychology Section

Dr. Marvin McDonald
Dr. Marvin McDonald
Dr. Tanya Mudry
Dr. Tanya Mudry
Dr. Jessica Van Vliet
Dr. Jessica Van Vliet
Dr. Houyuan (Hy) Luo
Dr. Houyuan (Hy) Luo
Dr. Janet Miller
Dr. Janet Miller

Dr. Marvin McDonald, Dr. Tanya Mudry, Dr. Janet Miller, Dr. Houyuan (Hy) Luo, and Dr. Jessica Van Vliet, Counselling Psychology Section
Counselling psychology has many facets and many different practitioners. We spoke with five of them about what it is they do, and how it affects the lives of everyday people.

About Dr. Marvin McDonald, Dr. Tanya Mudry, Dr. Janet Miller, Dr. Houyuan (Hy) Luo, and Dr. Jessica Van Vliet

Counselling Psychology

Syd Barrett created Pink Floyd in 1964, and was the driving force behind their seminal 1967 album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. He lasted for only one more album, A Saucerful of Secrets, before drug use and mental illness led to his departure from the band. He then hid from public life, obsessively guarding his secrecy for 35 years until his death in 2006.

Counselling Psychology might well be the Pink Floyd of CPA sections, in that they insist on having five members on stage at all times. A collaborative and inclusive discipline, it makes sense that when I asked to interview the CPA’s counselling section, a full five-person panel showed up.

Dr. Marvin McDonald is a professor at Trinity Western University in BC. He’s the Syd Barrett of the group (in that he was there from the start – he has lasted far longer than two albums), the Past Chair who helped get this section to where it is today. Dr. McDonald has a little more experience than the others, and has certainly seen the evolution of the discipline. He says,

“When I went through my doctoral studies in the US in the 80s, the ethics course was an option! It was not a required course - just to give you a very concrete example of how things are different today. The good thing about this transition over the years is that the professional standards have corresponded with empirical evidence. When I started my early psych pathology course, the data from community-level surveys for mental health needs had not yet been pulled together. There was still an active question in the literature about gender differences in mental health needs. It wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s that the data demonstrated clearly that more women than men sought help, and that men had higher rates of substance use and addiction. These are the kind of understandings that have advanced counselling psychology in recent decades, and they affect practice greatly, not just on the research side.”

Dr. Tanya Mudry, professor of psychology at the University of Calgary and a counselling psychologist with a few clients in private practice, is the new Section Chair. She is the David Gilmour of the group, in that she replaced Dr. McDonald – and in the sense that she keeps the group moving forward with a definite sense of purpose. She describes Counselling Psychology as

“A pretty diverse group. We tend to work in communities with families, children, and couples. We often work with people who might be struggling with life transitions – maybe having family problems or marital problems – and with people who have mental health issues or substance use disorders. We tend to take a diverse perspective – many psychologists will lean toward a particular method of doing therapy, whereas counselling psychologists are more all over the map. Some like to think about your past, and how you grew up. Some like to think about your social context or what’s happening inside your brain, and still others are focused on social justice issues and advocacy.”

Dr. Janet Miller is the Richard Wright of this Zoom call (Wright was the keyboardist for Pink Floyd, known for his skill with a variety of instruments and for the syncopated jazz rhythms and melodies he brought to the music). Dr. Miller works at Mount Royal University in Calgary, but not as an instructor. She’s a full professor in Student Counselling, and also has a private practice in the city. She brings an improvisational jazz style to the conversation, when asked how counselling psychology might affect the everyday life of someone who is not, themselves, in counselling.

“Maybe you’re walking up to the till at the grocery store, and you are unaware that the clerk had just come from a counselling session where they had processed their social anxiety so they could have that job and be front-facing and manage public interactions! They learned how to be in their body, they were able to be centred, and they were able to put anxiety to the side for a little while so they could experience people. Maybe they had some coping mechanisms that they employed so that when you arrived to pay for your groceries you had a smooth interaction. You were able to enjoy the process of buying groceries, and they were able to enjoy their work and go home with some energy to their beautiful family.”

Nick Mason is the only member of Pink Floyd to appear on every one of the band’s albums. The percussionist, he is emblematic of the Floyd sound throughout the band’s history and wrote some of their greatest songs. The Nick Mason of this group is Dr. Houyuan (Hy) Luo, the classic definition of a counselling psychologist. He has a private practice in Toronto and is the Chair-Elect of the Counselling Psychology Section. Dr. Luo says that while the pandemic has made providing counselling more challenging in certain ways, many of his clients are embracing the new delivery method.

“I have been providing 100% virtual counselling since March of 2020. I work in downtown Toronto, in among the skyscrapers, and a lot of people were not yet back at their offices. They actually preferred online counselling because it was easy, and convenient for them. Now that more people are vaccinated, they are slowly returning to the office and the expectation is that we will gradually start offering in person counselling too.”

Dr. Luo is interested in expanding the field of counselling psychology to include more people of colour, as there is a real shortage of psychologists who can share lived experience with their clients who may come from different backgrounds.

“In Toronto where I work, it’s a city with so much diversity. When clients want to work with a psychologist who shares the same ethnic background, they struggle to find one, even in Toronto. We really need to help BIPOC undergrad students, as soon as they get into University, to make sure they’re being supported along the way.”

Also very interested in social change, also an advocate for social justice, is Dr. Jessica Van Vliet, the Roger Waters of the group. Roger Waters, the bassist and primary songwriter for Pink Floyd, is the member who moved the group in a more explicitly socially conscious direction (think The Wall).  Dr Van Vliet, a professor at the University of Alberta in Counselling Psychology, says the biggest shift recently in counselling psychology is toward social justice.

“Social justice has always been important in counselling psychology, but now more than ever. It’s now really in the forefront of what we do. We’ve always had a focus on diversity, but now more than ever I think our discipline is taking a leadership role in the area of working across cultures and with diverse peoples, issues and methodologies. I also think leadership and advocacy are becoming more highly valued and more in focus in our field.”

For the time being, the biggest issue in Counselling Psychology – and in virtually every other industry, profession, and psychological discipline in the world – is COVID. It has increased the demand for counsellors who can help people with burnout, depression, hopelessness, and all the other mental health issues that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. We recorded this Zoom call in October of 2021, and Dr. Mudry’s thoughts at that time seem prescient.

“One of the areas where counselling psychologists are going to be instrumental is in the recovery from COVID. I’ve recently been involved in some work around burnout among critical care workers, and I think that’s going to be huge. In Alberta in particular and across Canada, our health practitioners are super burnt out. Also families and individuals struggling with having to work from home, a lack of social interaction, our kiddos are struggling with going into and then out of school. Counselling psychologists are going to be super busy in the next couple of years.”

How will Counselling Psychology, specifically, help with burnout and all these other issues? Dr. Van Vliet sums it up thusly,

“Part of what we do is we change the dialogue in peoples’ minds. We help shift that dialogue from ‘what’s wrong with me?’ to ‘what’s right with me?’ That strength focus, that positive piece of counselling psychology is a huge strength of our field. I think it has had a major contribution to how people regard themselves, other people, and their world.”

Very few, if any, people know what Syd Barrett did for the final 35 years of his life. In the late 70s, Roger Waters saw him in the department store Harrod’s in London. Barrett noticed Waters, dropped his bags, and ran out of the store. It was the last time any member of Pink Floyd saw their founder. We know that he became an avid gardener, and dedicated himself to painting, but that’s about it. One hopes he was mostly okay for those final years, and that he was able to work through some of his turmoil with a professional who could help make things a little better. A professional like, for example, a counselling psychologist?