The OSRP is proud to present Student Stories, a blog series that spotlights Student Members and their journeys to becoming registered psychotherapists. In this edition, we hear from OSRP Student Member Katie Richardson.

By: Katie Richardson, BA (Hons), CYW

The pathway to my career as a psychotherapist has been neither quick nor easy. I never had any “obvious” problems in school growing up –– in my youth I had average to above average grades. My undergraduate degree took me nearly seven years, however. I didn’t recognize that how I struggled might be an indication of something more significant than my supposed lack of effort; I had a very difficult time getting through readings and staying organized. When my parents moved across the country and I was suddenly eligible for OSAP, I quit my job, and focused solely on my education. I became a straight A, full-time student. Despite having the grades, I felt I was not ready for graduate school when I finished my degree and instead applied and was accepted into a post-graduate Child and Youth Worker program.

The coursework in the CYW program was a breeze and my first internship in an elementary school with kindergarteners was positive and uplifting –– I felt competent. The second internship, however, which took place in a residence for LGBTQ+ youth, introduced me to the sometimes-devastating reality of working in mental health. It was clear from my first day that the needs of the young people in the residence far exceeded the help that was available to them. I also unexpectedly found myself triggered and struggling with my own past trauma. Unbeknownst to me, I was frequently a deer-in-the-headlights in my interactions with the youth, and I struggled awkwardly through those days. At the same time, I watched one young person spiral into worsening psychosis. I distinctly remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be horrible if she hurt herself?” That was the night before I returned to a house drowning in grief; she had ended her life within a week of ageing out of care.

The experience of losing a “client” to suicide was devastating and entirely derailing. I questioned my place in the field and was enraged by the holes in our mental health system. Where was the support for the youth? Where was the support for the staff, who were burnt out from being overworked and underpaid and were now grieving a young person they had known for years? I was also angry with my school: why hadn’t I been trained to be more prepared for this? What was I doing here? I nearly dropped out of the program. With counselling support on campus, however, I hung in and went on to complete a third internship in the child and adolescent psychiatric unit at a hospital in Toronto, where crises were addressed promptly, and safety was taken very seriously, if not always in a way the client preferred.

I didn’t attend my graduation despite ending the CYW program with a 93% average. I felt disenchanted and anxious about the realities of working in mental health and searched half-heartedly for work for several months, interviewing with broken confidence. I felt I didn’t have what I needed to support myself and others in a way that felt ethical.

Rather abruptly, my partner and I then decided to start a family. I used pregnancy as a means of hitting “pause” on my career; I eschewed the mental health field, seeking more easily obtained employment to qualify for maternity leave. My son, unfortunately, developed medical complications within several weeks of his birth. We raced from specialist to specialist to find the right support for him, while I navigated my own intense post-partum anxiety. We were in and out of the ER countless times –– once by ambulance, before our son’s first birthday –– as we tried to understand what was happening and how we could keep him safe. My partner and I had no family nearby and could not trust anyone to care for our son. I became a stay-at-home-mom –– something I had not planned. I reached a breaking point with the stress and began taking an SSRI and attending therapy regularly to address both my past trauma and current struggles.

When my son was two years old, I learned about the MACP program at Yorkville University (YU). I realized then that what I needed to feel confident in the field was the right tools and the right support –– that is, professional training and adequate supervision. The flexibility of YU’s program would also allow me to tend to my son. I talked to my partner about it, and we went on a mission to find the perfect childcare, which, after some time, we were thrilled to find. I applied to Yorkville’s program and was accepted. Finally, progress!

I could not devote every second of my time to my courses as I had done previously –– they were no longer my top priority. I learned very quickly that motherhood and graduate school are difficult to balance, but it seemed like there was more to it than that. I struggled so significantly with executive dysfunction that I went to my doctor, who referred me to CAMH. Shortly thereafter, I learned I had lived 31 years with undiagnosed ADHD. The difference with the correct medication was like night and day, and while the program remained challenging, it became something I could accomplish, even as a mother.

Years later and after a seven-month delay due to the pandemic, I am finally set to begin my practicum this January. I have done a tremendous amount of work in personal therapy, navigating trauma and how ADHD played such a huge part in my struggles. I understand, too, that what happened with the young girl during my internship was devastating and, despite all the efforts of even the most well-trained professionals, it happens –– it may happen again in my career. I am more equipped now, however, to care for myself and those around me; I have a better understanding of grief and trauma, and a full toolbox of therapeutic coping techniques. I am privileged and so grateful to be where I am today. My long-term goal is to start a private practice in Durham Region that specializes in ADHD-adapted therapies for adults. I want to help others make sense of their worlds and know themselves better. I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel because there I was and, astoundingly, here I am.

To get in touch with Katie, please contact katie.richardson@yorkvilleu.ca.


1 Comment

Liz Phillips · November 15, 2021 at 12:31 pm

A story of courage, Katie. Thank you for sharing it. In the latest publication of the Psychotherapy Networker, there are a number of stories by therapists who admit their struggles. And it’s a relief. I don’t know any who DON’T struggle. The myth of the together therapist “expert” hurts everyone. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable. And welcome to the field! You are an important addition! You will be a gift to your clients!

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