I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a family therapist or psychotherapist. In fact, I began my early adult years working in a corporate setting. It paid well and had quite a few perks. Still, I was restless and less than comfortable with my role in life.
Then one day I opened a community paper and spotted a very short advertisement by the Vancouver Crisis Centre seeking volunteers. I recalled that I once had read an article about a United Church minister who had answered the distress line for over twenty years, how impressed I felt by his contribution to the well-being of others. And so, I thought, I must look into this. If you have ever contemplated such an opportunity and hesitated, wondering if you really could make a difference or if you were suited to the role, I strongly encourage you to take a leap and sit down with a crisis line manager to explore the possibility. Little did I know how much that decision would open my life to new meaning and purpose.
Sometimes a life stalled is simply waiting for a catalyst to propel it out of its comfortable nest into a hitherto unknown ability to grow. Yet we still must choose whether or not to heed the invitation. Shortly after beginning my training at the Crisis Centre, a horrific event had just such an impact upon me. On December 6th, 1989 an armed assault occurred against women attending École Polytechnique in Montreal. One angry man singled out and killed 14 female engineering students in a tragically misplaced rage against feminism.
Like a tremendous number of Canadians, I was shocked and moved to tears. For a brief time there was a national dialogue about violence against women. I remember speaking with a woman at a memorial. She expressed her gratitude to me and other men for attending but remained troubled by doubt; as a historian she had studied the progress and challenges facing the advancement of women’s equality. At several junctures over the last century beginning with the suffragette movement seeking the right to vote and to improve employment, educational, and medical rights she had observed this type of raised awareness only to see it ebb with time and the inertia of self-interest. I committed that day not to let my passion ebb, to continue to speak up, to be a man who addresses other men about violence and actively works to help heal gender-based violence.
Shortly afterward, I returned to university to undertake a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology. In need of a practicum placement, a friend suggested to me that I speak to the women’s shelter. There were children who had witnessed violence and in need of counselling. And so I began my new career with this extraordinary meaningful and rewarding opportunity.
Thirty years have passed now. I have trained and broadened my scope of practice to include all family members, all manner of issues including addiction, depression, anxiety, grief, anger, and still, of course, abuse. I have held a space of compassion for those who have done harm while challenging their beliefs and behaviours, as well as a space of care for and honouring of those have suffered harm. I feel privileged to have heard the stories behind these struggles, to understand the dance between vulnerability and courage, the battle between doubt and resilience.
When someone approaches me seeking support and assistance, I am honoured to be asked and will offer what I can.
And always I keep in mind the promise I made to a stranger at a memorial three decades ago. I believe that my profession has afforded me the privilege and responsibility, one client at a time, to do my part in helping to move us toward a more compassionate, respectful, and healthy society.