VWS: Tell me about your work and education after graduating from the VWS (post-secondary schooling, travel, work experience, family, etc.)
MT: After graduation, I attended Capilano College (now Capilano University). I enjoyed my time there and would encourage anyone to start at a small college rather than a big university right after graduation. You get small class sizes and teachers who love to teach at the undergraduate level. I was debating between majoring in English, Anthropology, Psychology and Biology — everything seemed so interesting! In the end, I had a very inspiring Psychology instructor who served as the mentor and helped me decide on psychology as my path. I transferred to UVIC to participate in their Psychology Co-Op program (study plus related work experience). However, after two semesters, I transferred to UBC. After graduating from UBC with a major in psychology, I started looking at graduate schools in clinical psychology. I was told that the admissions process was very competitive and that if I volunteered at a lab, I would be more likely to be considered. So, I volunteered in labs and geared my activities towards an eventual entrance into the Clinical Psychology Master’s Program. However, my experience in the Clinical Psychology lab, while heightening my interest in research, also raised questions about psychology’s seemingly pathology-oriented approach to human struggles. I felt disheartened by certain aspects of Clinical Psychology because it seemed (to me) to emphasize the clinical syndromes or what was “wrong” with them. I realized I was searching for a more holistic approach to managing emotional distress. In the fall of my last year of undergrad studies, I began volunteering at the Vancouver Crisis Centre. This decision was motivated both by a desire to expose myself to other approaches to helping and test whether I could emotionally handle work in the mental health field and a genuine desire to help people in distress. After taking my first call, a high-risk suicide, I knew that this type of work is what I am truly inspired to do. I enjoyed volunteering at the Centre so much that I approached the director and asked him what kind of education I would need if I wanted to do this for a living. He told me that I should get a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. While I was waiting to get into this program at UBC, I went to Quito, Ecuador and volunteered in an orphanage for three months. This was an amazing experience that I still often think back on today. When I came back to Vancouver, I worked for an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) as an Intake Counselor. This was a great introduction to the work of Counseling, and I was lucky to be able to work with actual counsellors before and during graduate school. My research for my Master’s degree at UBC focused on building rapport with suicidal youth using an online medium. I graduated from UBC’s MA Counseling program in May of 2011 and became a Registered Clinical Counselor a few months afterwards. I presented my research results at the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention (CASP) national conference in October 2011. Despite the serious topic, this conference was fun and encouraged me to keep doing research and networking with professionals.
VWS: What kind of work/study are you involved in?
MT: I work at Douglas College as a full-time counsellor. I work with students who have personal or academic concerns. Part of my role is to advocate for students who appeal a grade or a policy. I also teach a Human Development class, and I work at the Crisis Centre as relief staff, something I only dreamed about as a volunteer so many years ago.
VWS: What do you enjoy most about your work?
MT: I value the connections I make with clients and the unique stories and strengths that they bring to the session. I learn a lot from my clients. I also enjoy facilitating workshops with students on stress management and academic success, and I like having supportive co-workers who are fun to be around. When you’re dealing with serious issues, it’s important to surround yourself with light-hearted people and enjoy life. My work has made me sensitive to the fact that everyone you meet is fighting some battle; this mindset has affected many aspects of my life.
VWS: What do you think are your greatest successes?
MT: I’ve been on the phone with people who are a step away from jumping off a bridge. I like to think that I provided hope in a dark place for at least one person. If I managed that for even one person, then I think I have been successful in life.
VWS: How did Waldorf education affect your life and career choice?
MT: I think Waldorf prepared me very well for graduate school. My thesis did not seem daunting to me since I had an idea of what it’s like to stick to one specific topic for a year or more. The small classes and emphasis on group participation and public speaking at Waldorf are similar to graduate school. Also, the fact that you stayed with the same people for twelve years prepared me well for the world of work. One works with the same people over an extended period, and you need to work harmoniously with many different personalities. I struggled to adjust at the undergrad level since reading textbooks and answering multiple-choice questions were both pretty foreign to me. However, I did eventually figure out “the system,” Once I did, I did well at undergrad. Waldorf helped me think “artistically” — to make connections between things uniquely, which was incredibly useful when constructing my research proposal because research is all about linking phenomena creatively, then writing about it! I even found a way to connect counselling and cooking in my blog, The Counselor’s Kitchen.
VWS: What are your fondest memories of your time at the VWS?
MT: I remember Elaine’s art class and the Grade 12 Projects. I also enjoyed the hiking trips.
Editor’s Note: Maria Timm now has her Ph.D. in Psychology
Interview by Michelle Gibson, for Development, April 2012