Juliann Rasanayagam is a registered psychotherapist at Empathic Counselling Centre in Toronto. She specialises in anger management and intimate partner violence but also works with clients who are struggling with anxiety and depression. This year, she is proud to celebrate the recent launch of her first published book, DIY Anger Kit: Create your own Anger Management Toolkit. Her experience in working with clients who are involved with the law piqued her interest in exploring complex emotions. Empathy has always been the backbone to developing a strong connection with her clients and Juliann strives on using a kind, non-judgemental approach to understanding others.
Welcome Juliann, thank you for taking the time with us, can you introduce yourself to us as an anger management expert?
Thank you for the invitation! I am a registered psychotherapist at Empathic Counselling Centre in Toronto, Ontario. I specialise in anger management and have been working in the field for the last five years, in private practice for two. I use mainly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for anger management and I am interested in looking at anger through physiological, cognitive, and emotional lenses. Anger is just the emotion we see on the surface; my role is to help clients dig under that layer to figure out what they’re really feeling. This year, I celebrated the launch of my workbook, DIY Anger Kit: Create your own Anger Management Toolkit. It’s my brainchild and accumulation of my experience in working with clients as well as my own theoretical knowledge.
Can you give us a little back story on your journey so far and why you launched the Empathic Counselling Centre?
I completed my Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology in 2016. Like most graduates, I was caught in this transition phase between leaving academia and setting foot into “the real world.” I was confused about what I wanted to do next because I knew my place of employment at the time (which was a counselling agency) was not my forever job. I felt stagnant and that my creativity was going to waste. There was this internal craving to venture into the unknown and really start a new chapter in my life. I was in a state where I wanted to shed an older version of myself and start new with something fresh, and this felt right. Luckily, I was in a position to take risks, explore my interests, play with my creativity and just really be myself. I consider myself to be very fortunate.
The decision to open private practice came to me while on a drive. I was stuck in my thoughts, wondering what life after graduation held for me. Out of nowhere, the idea of private practice just popped into my head and it was my ‘aha’ moment. It just clicked! I coined the name Empathic Counselling Centre after putting a lot of thought into my values and strengths as a therapist. I knew I held so much empathy for my clients so it made sense to name the whole company after this trait. Even though I am a one-woman team, I call it “the centre” because I’m a big dreamer and I know that it will eventually become that.
You mentioned previously that you noticed a need for mental health services within your community in Scarborough, Ontario. Can you tell us the most rewarding aspect of your role at Empathic Counselling Centre to date?
The best part of being a therapist is witnessing the turning point in someone’s life. I find this to be a privilege because you are literally witnessing a life-altering moment. Whether it is validating a belief someone has kept to themselves, being the person someone shares their darkest secrets to, identifying manipulative gestures by others, deconstructing negative self-views, or being the only consistent support in someone’s life, I find these aspects are what makes the job so fulfilling. I feel that I am making a difference in someone’s life and that these conversations push people to become the best versions of themselves. I love seeing clients take control and ownership over their lives and become advocates for themselves. Watching people grow, emotionally and psychologically, is absolutely amazing!
How you are providing a safe environment for your clients to be able to tap into their emotions, whilst effectively using these as a driving force for change?
The key is to show the client that you are not judging them. Often clients are speaking to you about something that they are afraid of sharing with their loved ones in fear of how they’ll respond. As a therapist, you want to show that this is a “no judgement zone” where they are free to speak about anything and everything without fear. It also helps that we keep our discussions confidential, which can add a layer of trust. I also do my best to normalise or humanise how my clients feel. I remind them that, at the end of the day, we are all human and we are entitled to our feelings. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.
I am solution-focused in my practice, so although it is nice to talk about how we feel and what brought up these feelings in the first place, I like to focus on tangible and intangible change. I wonder how we can use our new understanding of ourselves and apply that knowledge to our current situation and improve our mental wellness.
How are you working on your own personal development?
Every morning, before I tackle any work, I take a few minutes to write down my goals for the day. I divide my goals into eight categories: self-care/physical health, educating myself, business development, administrative work, goals for the week, client hours, building credibility, and household duties. I try to have at least one item in each category and make it a point to complete these items. This way I know I am keeping myself accountable in taking care of myself and my family, but also developing the business, delivering great therapy, and building my own credibility in the field. I’ve never been in the habit of focusing on one thing at a time, rather, I enjoy having my hands in multiple areas and doing a little bit here and there because I know these small acts add up. This helps ensure balanced growth.
I have really taken to self-care due to the nature of the job and therefore it’s the first thing I do to start off the day. I am either at the gym for an hour, working out to the same Beyonce playlist over and over again, or I take my time in preparing a great breakfast and sitting down to a cup of coffee. These activities set the tone for the day and really gets me pumped for what is to come.
One hard lesson in life you have learned so far?
I grew up watching my mom be a super woman. Almost every day, I saw her come home from her night shift, get my sister and I ready for school, take us to the bus stop, go home and cook lunch/dinner for my dad, run errands, pick us up, take us to our after school activities, help with homework, feed us, get ready for work and do it all over again. She was my first example of someone who can do it all
Fast forward to now. After getting married, I too wanted to be the woman who can do it all. I wanted to be this amazing wife who kept her home immaculate, had dinner ready to go, handled all the chores, and took care of her health, but also is an impressive, accomplished, career woman who was killing it at work and changing the lives of others. Well, this led to burnout quickly. I found myself complaining about how there weren’t enough hours in the day or taking out my frustration onto my partner because I felt he wasn’t doing his part. I realized that I had set these high expectations of myself that were designed for me to fail. I had to learn that I could still do it all, but with some adjustments, the biggest one being that it was ok to ask for help.
It was ok for me to ask my partner to take care of dinner when I couldn’t. It was ok to take an hour to just sit on the couch and veggie out to some Family Guy. It also taught me to take life less seriously. What does it matter to have a clean home when you’re miserable in it? My perspective now is to create a balance between my home life and work life. Home life entails being present with my loved ones and reminding myself to have fun while work life entails learning to focus on what’s important and ending the day feeling like I was productive.
You offer a wide range of counselling programs from Anger Management, to Anxiety and Stress Management Counselling. How do you market your services and what is your assessment process like when taking on new clients?
Placing myself at community events through workshops, research projects, and panel talks have been helpful. Initially, I would attend mental health events in the community to get to know individuals who shared the same interests as I do. Through these friendly interactions, people became aware of the services I provide and would often refer to their friends or family members to me. Word of mouth is very powerful. I have also connected with family doctors who refer clients that express symptoms of depression and anxiety. I don’t rely on big bursts of advertising frenzies because I know it’s only effective while it lasts. I value consistency and working on things a little bit at a time because, as I said, these little acts add up.
I use an informal interview style assessment where I ask several open ended questions to understand the nature of distress and in what ways it impacts my clients’ life. Based on the information I gather, I ask them about their goals in therapy. I want my clients to leave therapy feeling like they are working towards a tangible or intangible change. Each session is then geared towards that end goal so that we both know that we are making progress. It is not uncommon for me to also use formal assessments so that clients can see the changes they have been making since their first session through data.
What does #BEYOUROWN mean to you?
In recent years, I’ve looked to successful women for inspiration. I’ve taken a little bit from each of these women and formed my own idea of what success means. I am who I am because I have amalgamated their teachings into one. From Mindy Kaling, I learned that you have to create your own roles if the world doesn’t have one for you. Beyonce taught me to tap into my inner badass in times of nervousness. I learned to be vulnerable by watching Adele draw success from her most painful life event. When the world told Elle Woods, “no”, she responded with, “watch me.” This taught me that if I’m hungry enough for something, I can and will find a way to go get it.
BEYOUROWN, to me, is that version of myself that has drawn so much from successful women before me. I take a little from each, put in my own flare, and created an entity that views her world as a playground. To BEYOUROWN is to be a confident badass who also recognizes that she’s not perfect and uses her insecurities to push herself out of her comfort zone.
In which areas are you looking to grow and expand throughout the rest of 2019?
2019 has honestly been a blessing. From celebrating the launch of DIY Anger Kit, watching the practice grow, getting involved in two research projects that are close to my heart, and continuing my involvement in the community, I gotta say, I am very pleased with how the year has panned out for me. For the remainder of the year, I think I want to focus on marketing my book a little more as it hasn’t been getting a lot of attention from me these days. I’m currently working on getting the book in local book stores and using it as a backbone to group anger management programs.
I have seen a lot of growth in 2019 and I credit that to the little seeds I have planted over the last two years. I imagine the business will grow organically if I continue the practice of doing a little bit at a time. I’m hoping to staying motivated, driven, creative, and overall, enjoying the work that I do.
Image taken by Joshua & Juchita Photography
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