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Community Story: Talia Singer, WhateverWorks Podcast

February 05, 2021

How a Jane Community member turned her dream of becoming an artist into a creative career in psychotherapy, art therapy and podcasting.

Talia Singer is a mental health nurse, psychotherapist, art therapist and podcaster living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She recently joined Destin from the Jane Community Team for a virtual chat about her career as a mental health practitioner and how an artistic background helped her grow her practice and launch a successful podcast.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice?

I hold a Ph.D. in Social Psychology, I’m a registered mental health nurse and psychotherapist, and I have art therapy training.

I came to find myself in the position of being a therapist in private practice through my work in the hospital. I graduated from nursing school during a time when it was tough to find a job in healthcare in Ontario. The only place I could get hired was in the adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit. I took the job, but I found that it had an impersonal kind of quality, which I wasn’t expecting. However, through that job, I realized that what I liked about my work was talking to people.

Since then, I’ve always looked for more ways to talk to people throughout my career. I think I just naturally stumbled into therapy. I found myself studying more and more aspects of psychotherapy, art therapy and then eventually launched my podcast as a means to talk with even more people about therapy.

☕️ Therapy is my favourite topic to talk about. There are so many different styles of therapy. There are literally about a thousand different styles of therapy. You could have a different one for every day of the week, and you could never cover them all.

What inspired you to do the work you do?

I wasn’t really thinking about nursing in high school. I wanted to become an artist. However, as you might expect, my parents were not really that supportive of me becoming an artist. They asked the typical questions like, * How will you support yourself?* and everything else that many parents say when their kid tells them they want to be an artist.

When I was looking through those booklets that you see in your guidance counsellor’s office, I realized that what I wanted was something that would let me be independent. I saw information about nursing, and I thought, if I study nursing, that would be a good fit. It would give me the independence I was looking for, but I would get to be around lots of people, which I enjoyed.

I thought that was perfect. I’ll be a nurse and get to be with people, and then, of course, I’d get a job right after graduation and then I could also be an artist. It would be perfect. But unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.

What did happen was a few years later in my career, after I’d been working as a nurse for about ten years, I found art therapy. When I found art therapy, I thought, ah, this is it – this is my way to be an artist. I can be a therapist and be an artist through art therapy.

☕️ Art therapy is the combination of everything I love - art, therapy and talking with people.

How does your passion for art manifest in your practice?

I continue to use the creativity that I enjoyed in high school by encouraging my clients to speak creatively in therapy.

Rather than saying, tell me how you’re feeling, I will say, show me how you’re feeling. I’ll give my clients many different options and ways to express themselves. Instead of just asking how their week was, I ask my patients to show me through collage, sculpture, paint, etcetera.

☕️ Art therapy is an excellent use of my creativity in that I don’t have to create the art myself, but I can help someone express themselves artistically.

When did you join Acutoronto, and what has your experience with Jane been like?

I joined Acutoronto about six years ago. Acutoronto was started by these two incredible women, Jasmine Sufi and Ellice Yang, both Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners. Together they started this amazing holistic multidisciplinary clinic.

When I interviewed with them, I brought along a giant painting that one of my patients had created, and I told them that I thought I could add to their clinic. It was such a great interview, and I felt like we were immediately taken with each other. Luckily, I was able to bring both my patient’s painting and my practice to their clinic, and I have been there ever since.

At the time I joined, we were still working with entirely paper files. I remember the transition and when they said we were going to transition to this new digital platform called Jane. I was so resistant to it. Honestly, I kind of suck with technology and that sort of stuff and I feel like I was the last practitioner in the practice to really come on board from paper to digital.

However, after I switched to Jane and went from paper to digital, I can’t imagine living without it. I really have to give credit to Acutoronto for allowing me to become comfortable with the switch and enter everything at my own pace. Now, looking back, I can’t believe I ever had paper files.

Shortly after joining Acutoronto, I also took a job as the Director of Mental health for a university. The first thing I did was introduce a digital platform that helped bring 1000s of patient files on board. I think onboarding with Jane and the positive experience I had with learning and using Jane helped me - a self-professed, not altogether that techy of a person - feel more comfortable with tech and helped me feel comfortable bringing tech into other areas of my work life.

☕️ Moving from paper to digital and having all of that information quickly and easily available is so incredibly helpful. With Jane, I have my entire clinic at my fingertips.

A lot of my work has switched to telehealth and teletherapy due to the pandemic. Having a digital platform with easy access to my files, whether I’m in my home office or my office at the clinic, has been such a help.

Another area where a digital platform has made an impact for our clinic is with things like referrals. Within an interdisciplinary clinic, where you have other healthcare practitioners, it’s easier to track and communicate about client health and well-being and continuity of client care within a digital platform.

What motivated you to start your podcast, WhateverWorks?

Through my experience as the Director of Counselling for Yorkville University and talking to practicum students who were studying their masters in counselling, I quickly realized that education in therapy and counselling could not even begin to cover the wide and wonderful world of therapy.

For many of my practicum students working with me was the first time they had ever met an art therapist because art therapy wasn’t taught to them in school.

Art therapy is a really popular psychotherapy style in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Israel. However, it’s a lot less popular in Canada, and sometimes it’s even brushed off as a bit of a flaky thing.

☕️ I wanted to use my podcast to learn what else is out there in the world of therapy. I also wanted to use it to show my practicum students that there are so many other therapy styles out there for them to learn about and incorporate into their own practices.

I started the podcast, WhateverWorks, because I wanted to explore myself and show others that you can work in many different ways within the world of therapy. You don’t have to limit yourself.

I wasn’t expecting how much interest and popularity it gained within the therapy and mental health community. Not even just that, but I also developed an audience with people who are seeking therapy. I was stunned and delighted by the interest it gained.

I was excited to hear from new clients that would come into my practice and tell me they had listened to the podcast and, for example, had never heard of sand tray therapy before and were interested in a referral for someone to try it.

☕️ When it comes to therapy, I say don’t limit yourself - try everything. It’s like ice cream flavours. Try it all! See what you like. I hope the podcast provides people with a bit of a therapy taste test, so to speak.

I’m on to my second season of the podcast, and I am thrilled that Jane is on board a sponsor for this season. Season two is very similar to season one, except I’ve included my own experience with group art therapy and the epiphany I experienced. I really wanted to share my story in season one, but I also wanted to give other people space to share first, so I have included my story in Season 2, Episode 1 of my podcast.

What do you enjoy about podcasting, and what do you find to be challenging about it?

Honestly, I enjoy every part of it. It’s different from anything I’ve ever done in my life up to this point. I find that exciting. I hope that never changes, and I never get bored of it.

The stories are so interesting. My process is that it’s usually a conversation with the guest for about an hour, and then I sit down with my editor and condense it to 20 minutes. I find that part of the process a really exciting challenge. Trying to take the essence of the person’s story and say it in 20 minutes.

I absolutely love working with my sound engineer, Jason Ball, who is both a musician and a sound editor. I’m delighted and honoured to use one of his original songs for the podcast. I think that gives it such a great unique sound. My other fabulous editor is David Conroy, who is brilliant at helping me distill the essence of the hour-long interview into a succinct 20 minutes. I couldn’t do this without him.

A challenge I have found with podcasting would be just trying to fit it into my schedule! Being in practice at Acutoronto and teaching at a university can make it a challenge just finding the time to fit it in. But it’s a challenge I am truly happy to have.

What do you hope your listeners will get out of the podcast?

As I mentioned, I talk about my own experience with group art therapy in my podcast. I share my experience working as a nurse for ten years and how I realized I was really unhappy in my job. During that time, I sort of stumbled into this program in art therapy.

The first day of class was my intro to therapy class, and that class blew my mind. It taught me things that I never knew about the world of psychotherapy. The way it could look, the way it could sound, the way it could feel.

☕️ I was hoping that other people listening to this podcast would have the same kind of wow moment that I did.

I don’t want to steal from Oprah, but I want people to have that same sort of aha! moment she talks about. That feeling was exactly how I felt on that first day of my intro to therapy class at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute. I felt as though art therapy was what I had been looking for.

That same sort of feeling and realization is what I’m hoping that my listeners get. I know that it’s asking a lot of a small podcast, but I’m hopeful that people will have that same kind of feeling and then perhaps seek out that form of therapy that sparked that feeling.

How have you adjusted to the increased usage of telehealth as a mental health practitioner?

At about the same time as Acutoronto hired me, I also started a Ph.D. and funnily enough, my thesis idea was on the ethics of online therapy.

Before I started my Ph.D., I had heard about online therapy, and I knew some people that were using it, but I had not tried it myself. I was resistant and terrified of trying it that I thought, to overcome that, I would do a whole research study about it. That way, I could learn whether it is a good idea or not.

I recently did a talk for the College of Psychotherapists of Ontario, where I spoke about my research and the challenges of telehealth and online therapy. One of the main challenges I see is what you could call technology literacy.

For example, in the beginning, I was a bit more apprehensive about using my computer, using video, understanding things like Jane’s Online Appointments. But, perhaps I have a 21-year-old patient who has never lived in a time where this technology didn’t exist. So that patient, they’re entirely techno-literate.

And then the opposite could also be true. I might have a client in her 70s that is terrified of technology, but sometimes we have to meet online. It can be nerve-racking for this client, and their anxiety is elevated. In this type of instance, there has to be a lot of tech support to get us started.

☕️ At the end of my Ph.D. thesis, I concluded that the adoption of online therapy is like a slow immersion into a digital way of living. Once you do it a few times, you can’t imagine what it was like before.

In my research, I also talked about something called the online disinhibition effect. This is the fact that we are likely to behave slightly differently online than we do face-to-face.

The explosion of online therapy has also led to an interest in clients attending therapy in their pyjamas, or the increase of clients, or even therapists, behaving in ways in which they would never act in face-to-face settings. The online space is just a different level of comfort. When you’re in your own home, you have a different level of comfort. There’s less ceremony, less stuffiness, so if not monitored and if there is not an awareness around it, it can quickly slide into unexpected or unprofessional areas.

☕️ For myself, since the pandemic, where everything switched over to digital, I’ve transitioned to being an online therapist. It is hard to remember living without it because my clients genuinely love the option.

While online therapy and telehealth can’t ever be quite the same as face-to-face, having the option for clients who live in remote locations or are unable to leave the house, for example, has opened access to therapy for them in a way they never had before.

Are there any Jane features that you find to be especially helpful to you as a mental health practitioner?

One of my favourite features of Jane is that it allows me to offer multiple services within the same discipline. You would think that signing up for a psychotherapy session would just be one thing; however, with Jane, I’m able to discern between the types of services I provide. I can offer my patients a wide variety of services.

For instance, if you go to Acutoronto’s online booking site with Jane and look under my services, you’ll see there’s in-person talk therapy, online talk therapy, and there’s also art therapy. Then for therapists looking for clinical supervision, I have a bookable service for that as well.

Another feature I love is the template library. Stumbling upon Jane’s template library was the biggest time saver! I can find a template that works for me or looks like a good start, and then I can customize it as needed. It’s been great to have the template library, and I’ve even uploaded templates myself.

I also wanted to mention Jane’s Online Appointments feature. The fact that you had the foresight to make it PIPEDA and HIPAA compliant gave many practitioners like myself breathing room as we started to adopt and transition to online therapy. As healthcare practitioners, we strive to comply with privacy regulations, and confidentiality is such an important hallmark of our practice. Providing good, safe, confidential care is the pinnacle for us, and the fact that Jane created a telehealth offering that allowed us to do that is such an incredible thing.

Mental health nurse, psychotherapist, art therapist and podcaster - what’s next for you?

My husband is always laughing at me. He’s terrified of the things that I have on the horizon!

After two seasons of my podcast and seeing what’s out there on streaming services, I thought wouldn’t it be great if you could actually see what sand tray therapy looks like? Wouldn’t you like to see, for example, what psychodrama actually looks like?

I don’t have any type of connections to make this work, and I don’t even know if anybody’s interested. However, I still think it would be great if it were also something that you could watch to understand better and get a feel for the different forms of therapy. If anyone reads this and knows how to make this idea work, please get in touch!

Some Resources from Talia

Want to share your story with us? Send an email to [email protected].

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