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A Day in the Life of a Registered Psychotherapist - A Conversation with Natasha Halliday

August 10, 2023

This week on the Caring Support Podcast, we talk with Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist Natasha Halliday. Come with us as we learn about being a social worker, the mental health symptoms you should watch for in yourself, and how you can help your loved ones or coworkers who may be experiencing mental health difficulties.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm Natasha Holiday. I'm a Registered Social Worker. I have a private practice where I see individuals for therapy ages 14 and up. I support people with mental health issues related to life stress. Not everybody seeks therapy because they've been diagnosed with something. Sometimes people are just having difficulty navigating things in their life. They're looking for support, or they recognize they're not quite themselves, and they're thinking, I don't want this to get worse, and I don't want to get to the point where I have a mental health concern. They're trying to do some prevention support. I see individuals with a range of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, life stress, life transitions, moving out of university into the workplace, retiring, maybe after a divorce, maybe contemplating a divorce, any kind of thing that comes up where somebody is thinking, 'I may not be able to figure this out on my own right now.'

What is your favourite part about being a social worker/registered psychotherapist?

Oh, that's easy. It's people. I just love people. It's fascinating because my role is to support people with struggles, but I still have so many beautiful moments where my clients offer sunshine in my life. They say something that is just wonderful or just even being able to connect with people and see the resilience they have, the perspectives they have, and the ways they still try to find joy in the midst of some really dark or difficult moments. That's a blessing to me as well.

What does a day in the life of a therapist look like?

I launched my private practice a week before we went into lockdown. I started with a virtual practice. I now have a hybrid practice, which means I often start my day seeing clients virtually, and then sometimes I go into an office space that I rent. I try not to have more than four sessions in a row, or I feel a little fried. I also have to be cognizant of my own self-care; I have to practice it. If I see my calendar starting to fill up, I put in blocks of 'do not book' so that I can't be booked, which gives me some space to eat. Typically, I often start around 10:00 am in terms of seeing clients, and some days, I work 10 to 5 or six. Some days I work a little later, and I'll start at one and work till eight, but I'm typically in online or in-person meetings.

There are times when I'm doing some other support work where I might be connecting with other service providers in that person's life or doing some practical work, too. For example, you're struggling to find a job. What do you know? What are the tools you're using to find a job? I love getting involved in that kind of stuff and taking some actionable steps as well and supporting them to learn about job search banks or whatever it may be connected to what they're doing.

Most of my day is spent in my individual appointments where my clients are younger, some of my clients in their teens. Sometimes I connect with their parents. I do have some clients who maybe are followed by a psychiatrist as well, and every once in a while, the client will give me permission to connect with their psychiatrist to give them an update because the demand for psychiatry is so high that most psychiatrists can't spend a half an hour to an hour with a client. Whereas I'm spending most of the time, 45 minutes to an hour, with my clients. I'm gaining more information and doing a different type of work. For continuity of care, it's helpful to have the psychiatrist informed if they've got a school social worker or maybe another health care worker or other support person involved. The parties need to be connecting so that we're not repeating a bunch of stuff and leaving something undone or making sure that we are offering the full service that we can. It's important to connect with other service providers as well to make sure that the client's care is the best that we can offer.

What advice would you give to students who are wanting to go into your field of work?

It's funny because I'm actually teaching at Centennial College right now, and so I'm interacting with students trying to enter into child and youth care, which is where I started before I registered as a social worker. One of the things that I find, both from working as a therapist and working with students, is students put themselves under tremendous pressure to have their entire life figured out. They think that they've got to have a 50-year plan. I often encourage people to let's start there and remind them that we are always figuring it out.

If you think about it like a GPS, you don't set a destination, get there, and then stay there. When you get there, you decide to go somewhere else eventually, right? In the same way, you might put a goal ahead of you, and you might achieve that goal, but there's always something else that you might be working towards. Try to release that pressure to have it all figured out.

I also definitely encourage practicing self-reflection because if you're not understanding yourself, it's much harder to know what you're bringing to the work that you do, and it's a skill that you want to be teaching your clients as well. If it's not a skill that you've really honed, it becomes harder to emulate it, model it, explain it, and encourage it to others. I often encourage a lot of self-reflection because we really, you know, as in many fields, it is a challenge. It can be challenging work and you want to have a good understanding of yourself in terms of what you can handle and what you can't handle. There's such a diversity of things that we can do in this field, so get to know what areas you might want to pursue. How do you explore those things? What do you do in terms of trying to learn those areas and have a good self-care practice? Because when you're in the field of pouring out, you sometimes forget that you also need to be poured into.

What does a mental health crisis look like?

From a more community-based societal perspective, what we're seeing is there are individuals who are difficulties with mental health, and part of the crisis is the inability to respond in a timely and appropriate fashion. A lot of that is still related to stigma. There's still tremendous stigma within health care itself. I worked for many years in hospitals and in emergency departments, and I was called to assess people sometimes because they looked weird. Well, that's not a mental health condition, right? You can't pathologize somebody for being eccentric, but this is something that was happening within the healthcare system that I was working in. Sometimes working in the system is super stressful because you are trying to respond, but you're limited. There are waitlists and waitlists, and how do you respond when people are in crisis when there's a waitlist? There are services for the crisis, but then there's often a gap between the crisis response and then the longer-term response. It's figuring out all those pieces and figuring out at all the levels we need to respond.

How do we support the school system? How do workplaces support their staff? One of the things that I'm hearing more and more is that managers and coordinators are often in supervision roles, feeling like they're more counsellors than they are doing the management piece. It's lovely that their heart is for that, but that's not their role. What are the ways that they can partner with organizations for either EAP or something else to support their workers? At the end of the day, a lot of people are really having a lot of difficulties, and I think even when we look at a societal mental health crisis, I think that should cause us to examine what we are doing in society and why these many people are suffering with their mental health.

Are things that you can do to prevent your own mental health crisis?

I think this goes back to a little bit about what I said about having a good sense of self and having an understanding of who you are. I always laugh that I age myself with this, but I go back to the tuner radios, the older tuner radios, where there were the little slots. When you're turning it, there's static until you line up, and then you get clarity. I often equate the self-reflection and checking in with stuff like that because what we often do is we get up, and we're like, I have all these things to do. I go, go, go, go, go, and at the end of the day, we're not necessarily checking in with ourselves. It doesn't necessarily have to be a daily practice.

What if we're not in the practice of saying, how am I right now? How have I been doing with this crisis that I faced or this disruption to my normal routine, or this extra stressful situation? In the business of life, we don't realize the impact that it's having. When we check-in, we often get a lot more clarity about and find ourselves realizing that we're not as okay as we thought. Maybe I'm more tired than I thought. We don't want to get to the point where we're shut down by sickness or something like that.

We are taught as children the butterflies in your tummy mean you're nervous. We're not necessarily taught that throughout our lives, our bodies are probably giving us cues as to what's happening in our emotions. Not every stomach upset is a stomach upset. It could be telling you you're nervous. It could be telling you you're stressed. Not every headache is a headache because of whatever the physical reasons we get headaches for. Sometimes that's an indicator that you're stressed. Sometimes your body will use these queues to try and get your attention and say, by the way, not everything's okay.

What steps should someone that is experiencing a mental health crisis take to get help/treatment?

They can talk to a GP or if they have a nurse practitioner. Have a conversation with them, or if they know somebody else has gotten mental support, talk to that person about what steps they took. It sounds a little simple, but what about a Google search? Is there an employee assistance program available at my workplace? Understanding that those are designed for shorter-term responses, but it is a fast response. Do you have benefits that might cover social work, Registered psychotherapist, or Psychologist to maybe get some therapy? If you're thinking therapy is something that you could benefit from, there are things online where you can do self-regulated modules where you can still get some information and then have an asynchronous way of interacting with a therapist. There are lots of options out there. Part of it is just how do people know until they need to know. Being able to tap into the resources that they have, like talking to their GP, maybe checking with somebody they know who's had mental support, or if they know somebody who works in the field. I've had a lot of people come to me and ask me if I can answer a question. I have been in many groups/forums on different social media where people ask questions, and I will respond with, 'Hey, DM me, and we can set up a time to chat.' There are lots of people out there who are willing to give a little bit more insight into what the mental health system looks like, how to get support, what the lanes are to seek support. I know it can be overwhelming when somebody doesn't know, but that's part of why I say talk to somebody else about it because if you're trying to figure it out on your own, it may be too overwhelming.

How can you support someone - family, friends, coworker - that is going through a mental health crisis?

There are two aspects. There's that you recognize something, but maybe they don't. You can start a dialogue by not just telling them a lot of what you see but asking questions too. You could say: I've seen some changes in you. Are you seeing changes in you? Are there things happning with you that are concerning to you? There are some things going on. How can I support you? I may not be a mental health professional, but are you looking to get some support? Can I help you with seeking support? Or you could say I know somebody who you can talk to to find out what some of the options are.

It can be challenging, and people get fearful of uncomfortable conversations, but people aren't necessarily looking to see everything that's going on with them. It's just really nice for somebody to say, I see you. I see that things are not okay. I'm not going anywhere. The relief in that alone is immense. You can say, I don't necessarily have the words, but if you want to have a conversation, I can listen. I think people put so much pressure on themselves that they end up backing off, not realizing then, on the other side, the other person might feel more isolated. What if everybody's uncomfortable and backs off? Just by being able to articulate 'I'm still here, I'm going to be here,' that might be really helpful.

Is there anything else you would like to talk to us about today?

Keep in mind, if you're witnessing somebody struggle with something that is not a struggle to you, please do not minimize it because it's something you manage better. You don't know how much is on their plate yet. There's no rule that we should all manage every stressor the same way. Don't minimize something because you either don't understand it or because you handled it well. Be able to support them. To say, if this is hard for you, then this is hard for you. When we diminish other people's struggles, then people walk away with feelings of what's wrong with me. Why can't I handle this? Our threshold changes day to day.

Are you experiencing a mental health crisis?

There is help available to you.

Crisis Help:  

If you or someone you love is in immediate danger or in in need of urgent medical support, call 911.

Adult Suicide: Talk Suicide Canada, support available 24 hours a day, 1-833-456-4566

Residents of Quebec: or call 1-866-277-3553

Mental Health Professional:

To connect with a Wellness Together Canada mental health professional one-on-one:

Youth: call 1-888-668-6810 or text WELLNESS to 686868

Adults: call 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 741741 for adults

First Nations, Inuit, and Metis People:

Hope for Wellness Help Line: Online Chat or call 1-855-242-3310 (toll-free)

Youth and Young Adults:

Kids Help Phone: 24 Hours a day, 7 days a week for Canadians aged 5-29. Call 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free), text CONNECT to 686868.

Provincial Support Options:

Visit the Government of Canada website.


About Natasha Halliday:

With over 20 years experience working in mental health across of variety of sectors, Natasha works from a variety of therapeutic modalities to best address her clients’ needs. Natasha is dedicated to helping people uncover the resilience they already have, and foster resilience in their lives.

About The Author
Cali Wiersma
Social Media & Content Specialist

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