The Hub Q&A with alumni Stephanie Dawson: Filling the gap, building a bridge

Q&A with alumni Stephanie Dawson: Filling the gap, building a bridge

Stephanie Dawson noticed a large gap in the mental heath resources available in Prince Edward Island (PEI) and knew she had to do something.

With two children under seven, one of which having a rare congenital condition and a partner working out of the country, pursuing a master’s degree seemed out of reach.

Once Stephanie discovered the flexibility of AU, she decided to pursue the online master of counselling program. About four years later, armed with education, passion and family, Stephanie and her cousin Katie opened Beyond the Bridge Therapy Centre in central PEI.

We had the privilege of chatting with Stephanie to discuss her experience with AU and learn a little bit more about her new business venture.

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Why did you want to pursue counselling psychology as a profession?

I’ve wanted to be a therapist since I was 12 years old. In junior high, a close friend was diagnosed with a mental illness, and I was amazed with the progress they achieved with their psychologist. Witnessing their quality of life improve reinforced my desire to help others, through means of therapy. In my undergraduate degree, I majored in psychology and minored in biology, which further developed my appreciation for both psychological orientations and mind-body connections.

Stephanie Dawson

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Why did you choose to study at AU?

When I decided to pursue a master’s degree, my husband and I had a seven and a five-year-old. My youngest (now middle child), has a rare congenital condition called Arthrogryposis. It entails a lot of physical, occupational, and surgical interventions. I was unable to work, as his care was my primary focus. My husband worked (and continues to do so) outside of the country to provide financially for our family. Although I had put my educational aspirations on hiatus for a few years, I knew it was the right time to pick up school again as my son’s therapies were less intense as he aged. Athabasca provided me the freedom to continue my son’s medical care, while completing my master’s degree. The online components were well suited to the additional roles I undertake as a mom.

Stephanie Dawson

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How long did it take you to complete your degree? Were you studying on a full time or part time basis?

I was accepted into my master’s program in 2014; however, I only completed 2 courses before taking a year leave to welcome our third child. In 2016, I reembarked on my educational journey and I successfully completed all courses and defended my master’s thesis in December of 2018. Aside from my year of maternity, I was studying full time; I also did my practicum and thesis components concurrently.

Stephanie Dawson

Stephanie's therapy room at Beyond the Bridge Therapy Centre
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How did the practical experience you gained in your mandatory placement hours help you when it came time to opening your own clinic?

As intimidating as the practicum course seemed at first, it was truly an amazing experience. There was tremendous personal and academic growth, by utilizing all of the knowledge I had gained and applying it to real-life scenarios. It gave me the confidence to work with clients, as a student, knowing I had the support of my supervisor and my practicum professor. I still draw upon many lessons I learned at my own practice.

Stephanie Dawson

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Why did you and your cousin decide to start ‘Beyond the Bridge Therapy Centre’?

Private practice had always been my end goal, as I require freedom to work around my son’s medical care and appointments. When I began my master’s at AU, I mentioned art therapy to my cousin, Katie. Art therapy truly resonated with her, and she moved to Nelson, B.C. to study at the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute. As we were both completing our degrees, we made mention of sharing a practice, and the idea flourished. Prince Edward Island doesn’t have many mental health resources, and we wanted to fill the gap in a central location on the Island.

Stephanie Dawson

Waiting room at Beyond the Bridge Therapy Centre
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When did you start your business?

Katie and I began discussing a practice a few years ago, but we truly began to develop our idea in 2018. We collaborated on a business name that could be interpreted in various ways, all alluding to a future-orientated journey. We are travel partners that join our clients on their therapeutic journeys, be it crossing a bridge, building a bridge, burning a bridge, or repairing a bridge. Bridging the gap of here and now, and where the client would like to be.

We began construction on our centre in June, 2019. It was of utmost importance that our centre be accessible to everyone. Our centre accommodates for wheelchairs, walkers, any supportive adaptable tool, really. Inclusivity is a value we promote; having a child with physical disabilities motivated me to ensure everyone and anyone can safely be accommodated in our centre. We had our open house in October, 2019, and we just started seeing clients in the last few weeks.

Stephanie Dawson

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What types of therapy does your clinic offer?

I offer individual therapy, tailoring each therapeutic intervention to meet the unique needs of each client. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is my primary orientation; however, I also borrow from Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), and various other therapies, when appropriate. Katie offers art therapy to individuals and groups of all ages and abilities. In addition, we collaborate to offer interactive and informative workshops designed around various topics. We recently presented a workshop entitled “Self-Care for the Working Woman” for the PEI Business Women’s Association. Our audience provided wonderful feedback regarding the opportunity to receive psychoeducation alongside innovative art therapy directives.

Stephanie Dawson

Katie's therapy room at Beyond the Bridge Therapy Centre
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How did your experience with AU help you advance your career?

I credit much of my professional successes to Athabasca. I had wonderful experiences throughout my degree, be it with my professors, my peers, and the content of the courses. Summer Institute was an important turning point for me; I was finally given the opportunity to meet my online peers. Still to this day, I speak to a few of them on a daily basis and consider them wonderful life-long friends. In addition, Athabasca has provided extra opportunities to advance my career, both academically and professionally.

Stephanie Dawson

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Is there anything else you feel is worthwhile mentioning about your experience at AU?

I would definitely recommend Athabasca to anyone who is interested in utilizing the advantages of online education in their personal and academic endeavors. The face to face requirements for my degree further instilled applicable knowledge and experiences I can apply to my private practice. If AU were to ever offer a PhD in psychology, through online means, I would not hesitate to apply!

Stephanie Dawson

To learn more about the master of counselling psychology program at AU, visit the program web page.

Published:
  • November 26, 2019