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Et lux in tenebris lucet
(“. . . and the light shines out of the darkness.”)

~ John 1:5                                                                          



 
 

This section, set up as an informal dialogue between you and me, should answer many of your questions. Please read further if you would like to get a better idea of who I am and how I think. Feel free to email or call me at (514) 213-5502 with any other questions or concerns.
 
What's the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a psychotherapist?

What difference does it make that you are a "registered” psychologist?

What about confidentiality?

What if I have questions about your approach or about your values as a therapist?

What could I expect a typical session to be like?

How long does a typical session last, and how frequently would we meet?

How long should I expect therapy to last?

What if I think my child needs help but she doesn't want to talk to anyone (and especially not to a psychologist!)

What if I wanted to invite a friend or family member to accompany me?

Are there alternatives to therapy if I want to get better or feel better?

What do you do professionally besides clinical work?

Do you really believe that people can change?

So what’s with the tree theme on your Web Site?
 
 

 
 
  
 
What's the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a psychotherapist?

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who has specialized in the treatment of mental and emotional disorders through direct intervention on the brain through medication. Some psychiatrists are also trained in psychotherapy. Of the three professionals described here, only a psychiatrist is qualified to prescribe medication for depression or anxiety.

A psychologist treats emotional disorders and relationship difficulties through talk and interaction. Psychologists work with individuals, couples, families or groups, and have achieved at least a Masters degree (and often a doctorate) while training to help people change.

A psychotherapist also works to promote therapeutic change but has not trained as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Unfortunately, anyone can practice psychotherapy and advertise as a psychotherapist since the profession is not closely regulated; levels of education and experience can vary widely and it is important to determine if the therapist is adequately qualified to help you.
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What difference does it make that you are a "registered” psychologist?

Two differences:

First, it means that I am a member of the OPQ (Ordre des psychologues du Québec), a professional order with high standards of professional ethics in order to protect the public.

Second, it means that you should be able to claim between 50% and 100% of therapy fees up to a certain maximum amount through your health insurance or through your Employee Assistance Program. Most family therapists are not psychologists and their clients do not have access to insurance benefits. This is one advantage you would have in working with me.
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What about confidentiality?

Two general principles of all effective therapy are that it should be voluntary and it should be confidential.

Although there are exceptions to both of these principles (ask any teenager "dragged into therapy" by a concerned parent!), it is important to realize that what is expressed in a counseling session is confidential and may not be shared with any outside person apart from the written consent of the client, which he or she may also later decide in writing to rescind.

Confidentiality is one of the foundations of trust in a counseling relationship. There are two important exceptions: if I believe that your life is in danger or that the safety of another person is compromised in some way, I must break confidentiality. I would generally talk with you first about who we should inform.
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What if I have questions about your approach or about your values as a therapist?

Then please feel free to ask me your questions! The relationship we will build together is one of the main tools for change in therapy, and it will be important for you to feel that you can trust my intentions and motives and have confidence in my abilities.
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What could I expect a typical session to be like?

When you first call my office, we proceed to set the day and time of our first meeting.

You arrive in my waiting room and I greet you and give you a confidentiality form to sign.

We enter my office and I collect some information from you to open your file. (If you want to skip over this step, print out an Intake Form, fill it out, and bring it with you). I ask you why you wanted to see me. I also ask what would need to change in order for you to feel that therapy had been a success.

It is normal for people to feel anxious in the first session, and occasionally people become quite emotional while talking about private and painful issues. I am quite comfortable with this (I have lots of Kleenex!) and you should not worry about what to say or how to say it; one of my first jobs will be to help you express what you are going through and sort out what might be very confusing to you.

In the first session I spend a lot of time listening and asking questions because I am trying to grasp your situation. (Later, I become much more actively involved). At the end of the session we agree on some specific goals and set the time and date for the next session. In some cases I am able to give you an estimate of how long therapy might last.

Of course if you do not feel that continuing therapy would be helpful, there is no obligation on your part to do so. Some people find that a single session gives them all they need to identify and begin moving towards a solution.
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How long does a typical session last, and how frequently would we meet?

Each session lasts 50 minutes, a standard "therapy hour".

On some occasions, especially when meeting with large families for the first time, I might recommend a double session of an hour and forty-five minutes.

As for the frequency of our meetings, this depends on your needs and your availability. I usually recommend that we meet once per week at the beginning of therapy and decrease frequency as therapy progresses, meeting once every two weeks and then once a month for a while before officially terminating therapy. This serves as a kind of monthly check-up or "safety net" near the end of therapy as things are beginning to go better and you are contemplating going it on your own.
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How long should I expect therapy to last?

From watching TV shows which perpetuate Freudian stereotypes (grrr!), people sometimes assume that therapy must last ten or fifteen years at two or three sessions per week to do any good! This is not even near the reality of most therapies, which do not generally last beyond a year. It is hard to answer this question without knowing more specifically what your needs or expectations might be. It would be like asking, “How long do I have to take piano lessons?” The best answer to that question would be, “It depends on what you want to learn how to play”!

Some situations, like stress management or dealing with a particular relationship issue, can usually be resolved in four to eight sessions. Depression, burnout and more serious relationship difficulties may take 8 to 12 sessions or longer. Deep relationship issues may take longer still. The important thing is that you get out of therapy what you need and want. And you can always come back and meet with me again later if other issues come up.
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What if I think my child needs help but she doesn't want to talk to anyone (and especially not to a psychologist!)

Come with her to the session!

That is one of the beauties of family therapy.

If a child or adolescent is upset at being "forced" to come, I will often ask a parent to tell her that she does indeed have to attend (just as we would oblige a child to visit a dentist or doctor), but that she doesn’t have to say anything. Just being present and hearing what other family members say can make an impact on a child or adolescent, and often she will decide to speak up after all and state her point of view. Often once the ice has been broken she will feel comfortable coming back the next time on her own.
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What if I wanted to invite a friend or family member to accompany me?

Absolutely!

I firmly believe that in order for therapy to be effective, therapy sessions must be supplemented by "extra-therapeutic change", constructive decisions and actions that occur outside of the therapy room in real life. Asking a good friend to attend a session for support is one way of linking what we do in therapy with your everyday life.

When friends or family members attend sessions, I perceive them not as clients but as consultants who are able to provide me with insights into your life that I would never have access to otherwise.

Of course, in some cases where there is conflict or communication difficulties, it is the relationship itself that becomes the "client"—the problem is between the two people and not within one or the other—and our best work can be done only if both partners are committed to therapy.
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Are there alternatives to therapy if I want to get better or feel better?

Of course.

Find the good in your life and to try to put your difficulties into perspective.
Let go of what you are not able to change and focus on “controlling the controllables”.
Seek out support—from family members and close friends, for example.

We could also speak of spiritual resources and prayer, and of books which promote self-understanding and suggest personal strategies for change (see Resources for some of my book and Web Site suggestions).

Also, physical exercise and relaxing activities such as meditation, yoga, sports, gardening—and whatever else you experience as "play"—can all be therapeutic, in the true sense of the word: "that which promotes healing".

Sometimes you might not want to bother friends or family with your difficulties or you might find yourself unable to access other resources. In those times psychotherapy can be helpful.
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What do you do professionally besides clinical work?

I manage to keep myself busy!

Apart from my private practice, I worked for seven years as consultant to a large bank where I helped employees and their families deal with stress, depression, burnout, conflict and other personal and interpersonal challenges.

I also taught university courses on family therapy and working with children’s emotional and social difficulties at Université de Montréal and at Bishop’s University; if you would like more information on this part of my experience, check out About Me.

I continue to present conferences and workshops on stress management, coping with change and transition, communication in the couple relationship and in the workplace, and appreciating interpersonal differences towards the goal of improving relationships or teamwork in the workplace (see Conferences and Coaching), and I have some conferences in the development stage: for example, “Surviving Midlife: The Hero’s Journey” (since that’s where I’m at personally).

Finally, in all the free time that’s left (!), I serve on the faculty of the Couple and Family Therapy Training Program at the Jewish General Hospital, where I lecture on family therapy and supervise postgraduate students who are in training to become family therapists.

I am a faculty lecturer in the new Couple & Family Therapy Masters degree program in the School of Social Work at McGill University. I have taught classes on "Understanding and Assessing Families" and "Family Intervention
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Do you really believe that people can change?

If I didn’t, then I would really be in the wrong profession!

I am fully convinced that in many areas of their lives, people can change if they want to change, and that "where there is life, there is hope".

I sometimes describe myself as a "desperate optimist".

Often people do not change, not because they lack the ability but because they lack the motivation.

My job is sometimes that of a teacher, helping you develop the abilities you need, and sometimes that of a coach, helping you increase your motivation to use the abilities you already have.

The work I do with you can serve as a catalyst towards change, but your commitment to the therapeutic process and your motivation to see things change is even more important than what I will be able to provide.
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So what’s with the tree theme on your Web Site?

I also have a side business in horticulture . . . no, I’m joking, I’m joking!

I like trees and woods and the wilderness, very true, but my use of a tree theme and logo is more symbolic.

A tree is resilient and able to survive storms and wind—if it is well-rooted. It grows and reaches towards the sky and provides beauty, fruit and shelter to those who live near it.

A tree is productive as well as beautiful, and when it undergoes trauma, as most trees do, it can heal and grow even stronger.

Sound like anyone you know?

My wish, dear reader, is that you and I may share in these tree-like characteristics.

As Hemingway wrote, “life breaks everyone—but afterwards, some are strong in the broken places”.
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One of my favourite authors, Annie Dillard, wrote memorably in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek of the varied reactions of blind people who had undergone an operation which enabled them to see for the first time in their lives. She spoke of her own ongoing quest for a similar experience, a vision of “the Tree with Lights In It”—and wrote about how it felt to suddenly perceive what had been common and familiar to her in a new light:

When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw “the tree with the lights in it.” It was for this tree I searched throughout the peach orchards of summer, in the forests of fall and down winter and spring for years. Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells un-flamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck. . .
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Copyright © 2007  Dr Darrell Johnson.  All Rights Reserved.
 
couple therapy, family therapy, individual therapy with adolescents, children, cognitive-behavioural approach/ CBT, systemic approach, brief solution-focused approach