Q&A: with Nikita Sehgal & Zameena Jaffer #HIHAskATherapist
Today on the Healthy is Hot blog, I get the chance to talk to the two newest HIH contributors! They are the lovely individuals behind Soutien Counselling Support, Nikita Sehgal and Zameena Jaffer. Both are registered psychotherapists practicing at Soutien’s office based in Mississauga, ON. Nikita and Zameena will be launching there own HIH column on HIH called #HIHAskATherapist !
One glance at their website, soutiencounselling.ca, and it’s clear that the approach to mental health is both accessible and hopeful. I’m excited to get some insight from Nikita (N) and Zameena (Z) to take a deep dive into the world of counselling.
How did you decide to pursue therapy as a career?
N: As young Psychology graduate, I started my professional career as a consultant in disability management. My role was to help people return to work in a safe manner once their treatment completed. I would work closely with their doctors and therapists, and the more I worked with therapists the more interested I became in counselling psychology. Throw an unsatisfying job in the mix, I became increasingly unhappy about the limitations associated with my role. I wasn’t able to help people in the capacity I had imagined, and was really reminded of the reason I chose to study Psychology at 19 years old: to understand and help people. In facing the unhappiness I found my true passion for helping people live their best lives. With some encouragement from my family I took some OSAP, quit my job, and moved across the country to Vancouver to pursue my Masters in Counselling Psychology. When you are truly passionate about what you do, hold on to that feeling and nourish it.
Z: Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by the inner workings of the mind, eager to understand behavior, and curious about human connections. Before I knew what psychotherapy was, I found myself as the nucleus of many confidante relationships - giving me my first introduction to empathy and emotional validation. I began consuming psychological literature like a thirsty desert traveller and realized that I had to have a Masters degree to practice. As early as high school, I had the next 10 years of my life planned out with the eventual goal of being a psychotherapist. This was no easy task having grown up in Tanzania and having to leave my family behind to move across the world to Canada to pursue my dreams. Despite the pushback I often received, I am grateful to the synergies of the world that conspired to get me where I am today, where I can wake up every morning and do what I love. Discouragement will be a constant factor in your life, spend more time affirming yourself than correcting others.
Q: What brought you two together to start Soutien Counselling?
N: I always enjoy telling this story. Zameena and I met in Graduate school in Vancouver! We had a common class and bonded over the discovery that we were both from Mississauga, and shared similar interests. We had a lot of similarities back then, and are constantly discovering new ones, some of which surprise us to this day! Foundation of any successful business is a strong friendship and unrelenting trust. Zameena and I started off as friends and turned our common vision into a platform that will help us live a fulfilling life. We are definitely lucky to have found each other!
Can you tell me more about the name ‘Soutien’ and what your goal is for your clients?
Z: Deciding on a name was a uniquely challenging and rewarding experience as it had to encompass our goal, core values, and our vision of healing as psychotherapists - that’s a lot of pressure for one word! Ultimately, I pitched Soutien to Nikita and we agreed on its potential. Soutien is the French translation for ‘Support’. We weren’t trying to be fancy by using a French word, we are trying to articulate our unique approach and commitment to diversity given that we live in Canada. An extension of Soutien is our core values of Advocacy (going beyond the therapy session); Action (setting the stage for goal-directed behavior); and Transformation (promoting change through the safety and security of the therapeutic relationship). Lastly, our name is our way of telling our clients that we want to provide Soutien (support) as we help them create the life that they want.
Do you each have your own area of mental health that you specialize in?
N: One of things that brought us together was our shared passion for social justice and mental health. We are constantly striving to incorporate advocacy and action into our practice with clients. I am a firm believer in therapy as resource-based, not just problem-based. What that means is that we are always striving to reframe the stigma associated with therapy to seeing it as a proactive lifestyle change. Similar to scheduling workout classes to keep our bodies fit and healthy, attending therapy regularly can keep our emotions in check.
My approach to working with clients is based in emotion work. While insight and exploration are necessary in therapy, true long-term and sustainable change happens with being able to pay attention to our emotions. I specialize in coaching clients through developing deeper emotional awareness, understanding, and practicing emotional regulation, which allows them to reduce the painful emotions and generate pleasant emotions.
Z: At Soutien, we pride ourselves on our unique approach to therapy. That is, as first-generation women of colour immigrants, we reflect the rich diversity of this country today. My clients have ranged from students, recent immigrants, men and women fleeing abusive relationships, and successful professionals who are highly functioning but struggle silently. My major strength as a counsellor is the ability to create a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship with my clients. Personally, I believe that emotions are one of life’s gifts; they offer us a way to experience the full spectrum of what it means to be alive. However, being human means dealing with complex emotions. Some cause us to react disproportionately, lose perspective, or even withdraw entirely from situations. Whether a client is feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, anger, confusion, sadness or merely needs someone to talk to, I can help clients build a healthy relationship with their emotions. A typical session with me usually includes meaningful conversation and an experiential activity designed so you can feel the inner shift taking place.
What does a typical workday look like in the life of a therapist?
N: My day is usually packed with clients, but when I am not seeing clients, I like to generate content for our Instagram page, and write blog posts. Zameena and I also attend meetings and events with other entrepreneurs over lunch or breakfast, and spend some time on our professional development. And when I am not doing any of those things, I like to practice what I preach and take time out for some self-care.
Can you tell me a little bit about the initial intake process? What would be the first step someone can expect once they decide to make an appointment?
Z: Time and time again research has shown that therapy is most successful when there is a strong therapeutic relationship between client and therapist. Soutien is committed to this idea, and so we offer a 15-minute free consultation to every client. Although we do offer this over the phone, we encourage clients to take advantage of this in person. The client will have an opportunity to meet us, experience our beautiful space, tell us about their goals for therapy, and ask as many questions they would like. Nikita and I go above and beyond to meet our clients needs and help them feel prepared for the journey ahead. If the client decides that they are ready to engage in therapy, we ask for a completion of our intake and confidentiality forms and then the healing can begin.
What would you to say to someone who is struggling to take that first step and reach out for help?
N: Starting therapy can be a fearful and anxiety causing event for many of us. There can be so many things going through our mind at that time, like “how will I make sense of what is happening?” “Will they understand?” “Will I be judged?” Other times we delay starting things because we are waiting for the ‘perfect time’. My advice to someone struggling would be to first know that it is normal to feel nervous when trying to start therapy. I would encourage them to first book an in-person or phone consultation with their therapist of choice. These consultations are typically free of cost, and provide you with a chance to see the counselling space and meet the therapist to ensure they are a right fit for you. Becoming familiar with your therapist and their space before you start therapy can not only greatly reduce any uneasiness and anxiety, but also inject some hopefulness and motivation!
If you’re struggling to take that first step, it is important to be mindful about what you want to accomplish in therapy and to explore your reasons for coming to therapy. The following questions can help create a mindset for change, and ease your anxiety:
1. If you could have the kind of life you want, what would it look like?
2. What do you think is needed of you to create that life?
3. How motivated are you to do the above?
Where can everyone find you and get in touch to learn more?
Where can everyone find you and get in touch to learn more?
Z: We want to make our services as accessible to clients as much as possible! With that, we can be reached in the following places:
We also offer sessions telephonically or over video for clients who have a hectic lifestyle, or are geographically isolated.
What does the phrase “Healthy is Hot” mean to you?
N: ‘Healthy is Hot’ is really about reframing our attitude around pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Both physical and mental health are cornerstones of being healthy, and our interpretation of the phrase ‘healthy is hot’ is to motivate everyone to be their best selves, both mentally and physically. After all, taking care of our mind and body is the ultimate form of self-respect, and the foundation for a fulfilling life.
Z: When I think about the word ‘Hot’ I think about the messages that bombard us every day about a societal standard that has been set that we, now, have to try to reach. Often, every time we extend to that standard, the finish line gets moved a little further or the route changes. I appreciate that HIH is trying to change the narrative. To me, Healthy means the presence of resiliency rather than the absence of disease and trauma. So when you add the word ‘Healthy’ in front of ‘Hot’ you are able to capture a concept that emphasizes social and personal resources as well as physical capacities - all the context of our current cultural climate and generational context.
That’s all for now, stay tuned for more posts that feature more insight from the Soutien Counselling team with HIH Ask A Therapist
Stay healthy, stay happy,