Why did I become a psychotherapist?

One of the first films I watched by Robin Williams, other than Aladdin, was Patch Adams. This was influenced by true events. Robin Williams played the role of a doctor who thinks of creative ways to help others cope with pain and life ailments. His ability to treat everyone uniquely and find individualized solutions was inspiring. After watching this movie, I felt incredibly motivated to learn about human behaviour and how we can support each other to be resilient. I knew that I wanted to work with people, just like Patch Adams. I also knew that I would do this in one of two ways: as a psychotherapist or a police officer. My fitness at the time [and likely still today] was that of a slug. I was worried

about not cutting it as a police officer - so I chose psychotherapy.

 

There are 7.5 billion people in this world. We all observe and behave in this world differently. These differences lead to unique experiences of the world. From the day we are born, we are constantly learning through direct and indirect experiences. How we internalize these experiences can lead to different psychological states such as happiness or sadness. The human mind can be a source of friendship but it can also be a source of bullying. Our mind can be nice and it can be really mean to us!

I feel that as a psychotherapist, my role is to help you be the gardener in your life. To help lay the foundation for thoughts, feelings and behaviour that are helpful towards achieving your life purpose. As the gardener, a psychotherapist can help others grow and become resilient under changing circumstances. And just like Patch, we can make this journey of life an interesting, creative, and inspiring travel experience.

Sim Shergill MSc

What is my education & training?

I attended the University of Toronto from 2005 to 2007 where I achieved an Honours Bachelor of Science, focusing on psychology and sociology. While in my program, I began working with people with Autism and Developmental Disabilities. I was able to develop strong rapport with patients who were often left alone, deemed difficult by other staff and had trouble communicating their thoughts and feelings. This was a new world for me. I wondered how someone who may be non-verbal could engage in psychotherapy, where there is a lot of talking! I did not want these patients being left alone because they had been deemed ‘difficult’. 

 

I knew that I wanted to be creative, like Patch, in ensuring that I had the skills and tools to be able to provide support to any population. In exploring this question, I came across behaviourism and applied behaviour analysis. This field combined core simple principles of behaviour with psychology.  This taught me to understand why people, regardless of their background, behave the way they choose to behave - and why we may think or feel the way we feel. 

 

Again, feeling inspired by a unique and interesting approach to working with mental health, I went on to achieve my Masters of Science in Applied Behaviour Analysis from the University of Wales, Bangor in 2011. My thesis focused on using mindfulness and in-vivo behavioural training to increase the engagement between staff and patients in group home settings. After completing my degree, I began working as a behaviour consultant in the field of acquired brain injury. By understanding how the brain is naturally designed, how it wants to behave and how we as humans learn to behave and think, I knew I was ready to become a psychotherapist. I became a registered psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario in May 2015 and have never looked back or wondered if I took the right route. I believe my journey with education and training, helped me become a better psychotherapist and human being. 

 

By taking a behavioural approach to my education, I was in awe of how simple the principles of behaviour were - and yet never communicated to me through my elementary learning. I wanted to become a psychotherapist that could communicate to the WORLD about the very important connection between our mind, body and soul. Luckily, I have been able to do this with my patients and students. The feedback that I have received is “Why wasn’t this taught to us from kindergarten onwards. It’s great that I know how to add, subtract, and spell but I also should have been taught how my mental health changes as I grow up.” This feedback from my students and clients - has stayed with me ever-since. It is very important that we teach the mind-body connection from childhood onwards - it is a life-long approach.

What are my areas of clinical focus?

Have you ever been to therapy? Has anyone ever told you their experiences? Many people come to psychotherapy as a reactive approach - “‘Life becomes too much and now we ‘need’ therapy.” Much of the therapy world takes a reactive approach to mental health. I also believe in endorsing a preventative approach to mental health - regular check-points throughout life - that ensure we are developing an awareness of how our mind, body and soul work together. We don’t have to wait until something is wrong to focus on mental health.

My clinical focus areas include, but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety: feelings of nervousness, worry and fear that is debilitating 

  • Depression: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair 

  • Acquired brain injury: mild to severe injury to the brain; due to falls, assault, stroke, hemorrhage, infections, or tumours

  • Concussion management: disruption of chemicals to the brain after external impact.

  • Bipolar disorder: periods of fluctuations in mood from high to low; mania and depression

  • Borderline personality disorder: unregulated emotional responses, impulsivity, inaccurate perceptions of self and others, pattern of unstable relationships 

  • Schizophrenia: disturbances of thought and perception through hallucinations, delusions or distorted speech

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder: presence of obsessions or compulsions; persistent intrusive or unwanted thoughts leading to repetitive behaviours to prevent or reduce anxiety or distress from obsessions. 

  • Stress Tolerance: difficulty performing under increased or prolonged periods of stress 

  • Behavioural problems: property damage, aggression, noncompliance, self-harm

  • Preventative Care and Self-Preservation: learning to be and stay resilient

What do I love about being a psychotherapist?

We have our eyes checked yearly by an optometrist. We have our teeth checked, twice a year, by a dentist. Our physical health is checked, at least once per year, by our family doctor. But our mental health is regularly checked by whom?  

 

If we break our leg, we are willing to accept the help from a surgeon and physical therapy in repairing our limb. We are generally not worried about fixing physical problems. It is what the brain loves to do! Fix problems. But, when it comes to fixing the problems that we cannot see - the ones that are in our brain - we shy away from asking for help.  

 

My favourite part of being a psychotherapist to teach others to improve their own relationships with their mental state. I enjoy building a connection with people who have previously lost hope with therapy. Going to therapy is not an easy task. To choose to be vulnerable requires a lot of bravery. I respect this with every fibre of my being. There is so much strength in vulnerability. There is so much strength in acknowledging that we may need help sometimes.

 

Lighthouses were created because in the moments of darkness, people would become injured while out on the water. The lighthouses became a source of light to guide people safely back to land. Think of your psychotherapist as a lighthouse. We have learned how to be lighthouses to help people through the darkness. The light that you may not be able to see, at the end of your tunnel, can be shown through a journey with a trained psychotherapist. I love being the psychotherapist that offers a safe place to be vulnerable and to be able to share strategies to improve someone’s current state. When you see your patient looking sad and sullen prior to a psychotherapy session - and the change in their expressions after therapy to motivated and hopeful - this becomes the most wonderful part of a psychotherapeutic relationship. I can be a lighthouse for you. And hopefully, show you how to be your own lighthouse as well.

What are the techniques I use most?

In my practice, I am inclined to focus on a behaviour psychology. This means that my aim is to help develop an understanding of why we choose to behave in certain ways and how those behaviours impact our psychological health. I often use Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Applied Behaviour Analysis, Mindfulness and Solution-focused Therapies. I believe in evidence-based practice; which means that I will not offer you a strategy just willy-nilly. The strategies have been researched and explored to ensure their effectiveness.

What attracted me most to team-based health?

I have been working in the field of acquired brain injury for almost a decade. My patients have reported to me that they felt as if they:

  • Were only a number 

  • Had fallen through the gaps of the system, or forgotten

  • Were burdened by re-telling their traumatic stories 

  • Were overmedicated 

  • Were a burden to their professionals 

 

My patients were sometimes scared to start a new relationship with a new professional because they were worried about being left behind. They had fears that they were only a paycheck. These experiences worried me greatly. They worried me because they indicated very real and big obstacles to receiving healthcare that is communicative, collaborative and creative. I also learned very quickly that the recovery process, not only in the field of brain injury, is smoother and quicker when there is a team-based approach to supporting the patient. 

 

By ensuring that all professionals are working together, we can provide individualized support to the patient that is holistic and complete. Increased communication between health professionals can also increase the effectiveness of each service. For example, a psychotherapist can support the service of a chiropractor by teaching pain management strategies. A chiropractor can support the psychotherapist by providing education on the underlying condition that may be creating unhelpful behaviours. As a team, we can create more opportunities for learning about the mind, body and soul and also strengthen the use of new strategies by staying up to date on what each practitioner offers to the big picture of patient health.

If I’m not at work, where can you find me?

At home with my Doberman, Jango, and alley cat, Blade. Or you will find me at a coffee shop, reading or writing poetry. Poetry is an outlet for me to express the strong emotions that I have experienced or vicariously felt through patient stories. I am a sucker for t.v. shows that revolve around human behaviour and psychology. To name a few of my favourites: Criminal Minds, Big Bang Theory, Lie to Me, Grey’s Anatomy, Jessica Jones, The Sopranos, and Dexter. Finally, my kryptonite is pizza.