UVic Women in Science presents an interview series highlighting women in the scientific community on Vancouver Island. Jennifer Munro is the Clinical Director of a community counseling program at Pacific Centre Family Services Association (PSFSA), a non-profit organization that provides affordable counseling services to individuals, couples, and families who are healing from challenges such as anxiety, depression, grief and loss, PTSD, and historical/transgenerational trauma. She is also the clinical supervisor of PCFSA’s internship program for students working toward Master’s degrees in UVic’s Counseling Psychology program and similar programs across the country. Her specialization is largely in trauma processing and family work.
What inspired you to pursue a career in psychotherapy? Being raised in a family with a history of mental health issues, I always believed that there had to be some way to provide therapeutic support other than the prescribed (and often ineffective) treatments available in those days. This curiosity led me to volunteer to assist with the care of children with developmental disabilities when I was in high school, and later to pursue classes in psychology at university. I graduated with two degrees, one in psychology and one in social work, from the University of Ottawa and the University of Toronto respectively. During my social work degree I did a practicum in child protection, where I worked with multi-disciplinary teams comprised of psychologists, social workers, physicians, and educational specialists. These people mentored and inspired me to develop and refine skills in helping people to heal. The practicum experience helped me to figure out my career path. After graduation I completed a Master’s degree in integral counseling psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), where I received specialized training in working with somatic psychology, complex trauma, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy.
Who are your role models? Dr. Judith Mitchell, an Emeritus UVic professor, has been a role model, mentor, and dear friend to me throughout my career. She helped me to realize my potential when I was discouraged from pursuing higher education due to my family’s views on gender, and to overcome impostor syndrome during my initial years of clinical practice. My clinical supervisor in my Master’s program at CIIS, Margaret Skinner, also played an important role in my career.
What is the most interesting case you have worked on and why? I cannot give details of individual cases, but overall the work I have found most interesting and meaningful has been my therapeutic work using EMDR to facilitate people’s healing from trauma.
When have you felt most proud of your work and why? I feel most effective as a therapist when I can help people to access their own deepest resources on their individual paths to healing. I feel most effective as a supervisor when students learn to become their own kindest critics.
Impostor Syndrome is quite prevalent these days, especially among women in scientific fields. Do you have any advice as a psychotherapist on how it should be dealt with? I believe that finding an advocate and/or a good psychotherapist is the key to beating impostor syndrome. I would encourage women to find a mentor who can consistently help them to develop and whom they can trust.
What has been the biggest obstacle in your work life and how did you approach it?The biggest challenge for me has been to be both the best mother and the best therapist I can be. At times, these two endeavors were mutually exclusive because my children always came first. As a psychotherapist who has studied attachment theory, I prioritized my kids over my career in their early years. After taking a five-year break, I resumed my career part time initially and then full time later on. As they grew up, my kids have come to value the type of work I do and have been increasingly comfortable with me focusing on my career. I am happy to be able to balance them now.
Tell us more about your role as a clinical supervisor. What aspects will the students get exposed to during your training?I have been a clinical supervisor for 13 years and am currently supervising 10 students per year. I provide internship opportunities for Master’s level students enrolled in clinical and counseling psychology and social work programs. During their internships, students acquire skills and training for working with trauma and get a chance to work with a wide variety of individuals, couples, and families within a trauma-informed model. Such internships are critical for acquiring a license in clinical counseling. After the internship, students are in a position to graduate with a Master’s degree and acquire a license in order to do counseling in the community through private practice, the government, or other types of organizations.
Tell us about your science outreach experiences. Part of one of my former jobs was to reach out to the community and to government ministries to enhance awareness and provide education about addiction and the availability of services. My most satisfying outreach experience to date was working with Covenant house in Toronto, where I provided education and counseling about HIV, Hepatitis C, and street drugs to youth who were working and living on the streets. My hope in the not too distant future would be to provide EMDR mobile outreach services to accident victims, paramedics, and other first responders who deal with trauma in the community.
What does a typical day in your life look like? A typical day for me includes supervising students individually and in groups, counseling clients, debriefing with staff, writing grant applications, attending meetings, and hopefully finding the time to exercise, have some fun, and practice what I preach in terms of self-care.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in pursuing a career in psychotherapy? Psychotherapy is still a female-dominated field. Go as far as you can in your education and do as much training as you can. This is a field where, increasingly, science meets art and mind meets heart, as new discoveries in neuroscience such as brain plasticity tell us there are no limits to healing potential. It is a rewarding and creative profession that allows you to use your whole, authentic, creative self.