Brenda’s Education and Experience
Brenda’s academic background is as a medical doctor. She began her career practicing medicine in Masset, Haida Gwaii (formerly The Queen Charlotte Islands) in 1985. Shortly thereafter, she decided that what she most loved about medical practice was counselling. She left medicine and has been working as a counsellor ever since. She stayed in Masset for eighteen years, working in a private counselling practice for many of those years. During her last six years there, she worked as a Stopping the Violence Counsellor, providing counselling services to women who had experienced violence and abuse. She has been a Registered Clinical Counsellor with the B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors since 1993.
In 2003, Brenda moved to Duncan where she has a private counselling practice. She is also a Principal Faculty member with the City University of Seattle Master of Counselling Program in Victoria. Courses she has taught include
- Trauma and interpersonal violence,
- Grief and loss,
- Introduction to counselling psychology practice,
- Research project/thesis,
- Counselling theories,
- Practicum, and
- An independent-study online course in professional ethics and law.
Brenda has presented at local, provincial, territorial, national, and international conferences, including Ending Relationship Abuse Society of BC annual conferences in Vancouver in 2007 and 2008; Conversations on the Margins: Therapeutic Change, Social Change, Social Justice in Ottawa, Ontario in 2012; the Canadian Domestic Violence Conference in Toronto, Ontario, in 2013; In Dignity: Addressing Domestic Violence Through Response-Based Practice in Calgary, Alberta in 2013; In Dignity: Addressing Violence and Injustice Through Response-Based Practice in Yellowknife, NWT in 2014; the Interpersonal Neurobiology with Innovative Therapeutic Practices conference in Toronto, Ontario, in 2014; and Dignity 2015: Response-Based Practice in Action in Hawkes Bay, Aotearoa/New Zealand in 2015.
Brenda served for two and a half years on the board of directors of the B.C. Association of Specialized Victim Assistance and Counselling Programs (now the Ending Violence Association) and was a board member of the Ending Relationship Abuse Society of B.C. from 2007 to 2010.
Additional Areas of Interest
In addition to areas of interest listed on the previous page, Brenda has worked successfully with people using self-harming practices e.g., cutting or burning; people experiencing eating problems e.g., anorexia or bulimia; people using substances e.g., alcohol or drugs, in ways that are detrimental to their health; and people who have experienced many different forms of adversity e.g., armed robbery, motor vehicle accidents, fatal house fires, racism, harassment, workplace discrimination, and other forms of oppression.
Culture and Diversity
Brenda has extensive experience living and working with First Nations people and providing services to First Nations clients. In addition to living and working in Masset, Haida Gwaii, she worked for Cowichan Tribes from 2006-2009 and for H'ulh-etun Health Society from 2009-2015. She welcomes diversity in her practice and sees clients of a wide variety of racial, cultural, and spiritual backgrounds; sexual orientations; gender identities; socioeconomic groups; and levels of education, ability, and health. Brenda considers honouring human dignity in all aspects of her work to be essential for ethical practice.
Response-Based practice is a multi-facetted, multi-disciplinary approach to violence, abuse, and other forms of oppression. It was developed by Allan Wade Ph.D., Linda Coates, Ph.D., and Nick Todd, M.Ed. It has applications for counsellors, legal system personnel, social workers, transition house workers, victim assistance workers, health professionals, and others providing services to those who have been subjected to violence and to those who have perpetrated violence. It is based on detailed analysis of actions of those who perpetrate violence, responses of those who are victimized, social responses, and language commonly used to describe these events. It is grounded in extensive practice experience with clients and in rigorous research into the connection between violence and language. Foundational to Response-Based practice is the distinction between effects and responses. Human thoughts, feelings, and actions are understood as responses, not effects. This has many implications for the ways professionals respond to people who have been subjected to violence. Pain and suffering may be seen as understandable responses to adversity rather than as symptoms of disorders. Thus, this practice avoids labelling and diagnosing individuals who have experienced violence. Brenda has extensive training and experience utilizing a Response-Based approach, has presented it in numerous classroom, workshop, and conference settings, and provides consultations for other counsellors.
Responding to Victimization, Guilt, and Shame
People who have been assaulted or who have witnessed an assault often experience deep feelings of guilt and shame related to thinking they did not do enough to prevent or stop the assault or to reduce the degree of violence. Alternatively, people may feel they reacted too strongly to defend themselves or protect others. Often these feelings are a response to, or are accentuated by, messages from others who in some way blame the person who was victimized. Response-Based Practice (Coates, Todd, & Wade, 2000) is well suited to addressing these feelings of guilt or shame. By looking closely at details of circumstances and events before, during, and after an assault, actions of the person who perpetrated violence, responses of the person who was victimized, power imbalances, social responses, and other key factors, it is often possible to gain new understandings of the responses of the person who was assaulted. Through this analysis, people often experience significant relief from feelings of guilt and shame.
Responding to Self-Harming Practices
People who use self-harming practices e.g., cutting and burning, are rarely attempting to end their lives. In fact, many people who use these practices say they are using them as a way of managing overwhelming emotional pain in an effort to make life bearable and to choose to stay alive. People often discover self-harming practices accidentally. They may unintentionally hurt themselves when feeling huge emotional pain and find that the emotional pain is converted into physical pain. They thus find relief from the emotional pain, while knowing how to deal with the physical pain and take care of wounds. Visible injuries may also validate emotional pain by transforming it into something visible. Relief provided by self-harming tends to be temporary however; people often find their emotional distress builds again over varying lengths of time, and then they may self-harm again. Self-harming actions are rarely an attempt to get attention, as indicated by the secrecy that is usually so important to those using these practices. Sometimes people scare themselves and others by underestimating the dangers of these practices e.g., by cutting more deeply than intended. People may disclose their use of self-harming practices to someone they trust when they decide to seek other solutions to dealing with stresses. Brenda invites people to talk about what self-harming means to them, when they use it, the purposes it serves, risks involved, their current life stresses and support systems, and what kinds of changes they would like in their lives. Counselling often includes providing support for addressing stressful life circumstances, developing alternative approaches to dealing with distress, and building additional social supports.
Moving Through Grief
While there are frequently many challenges associated with the death of a loved one, the grieving process can become even more difficult and complicated in a variety of circumstances e.g.,
- when death is sudden and unexpected,
- when death is the result of murder or suicide,
- when the cause of death is unknown,
- when a child dies,
- when there is no definite proof of death e.g., the body was not recovered or positively identified,
- when for some other reason the bereaved did not see the body of the deceased,
- when the deceased was a same-sex partner but not everyone close to the partners knew they were intimate partners or acknowledged and supported the relationship,
- when the deceased was a family member who had been violent or abusive,
- when the grieving process is delayed or interrupted,
- when the bereaved feel somehow to blame for the death or circumstances related to it,
- when the bereaved had unresolved conflicts with the deceased,
- when the bereaved lack social support, or
- when the bereaved have experienced multiple losses in a short period of time.
People often find it helpful to discuss ways in which specific circumstances may contribute to difficulties associated with bereavement and to develop an active approach to grieving. Rather than seeing grief as a series of stages that people move passively through, many people appreciate a more active approach of working through tasks of grieving. Worden (2002) developed four main tasks of grieving:
- To accept the reality of the loss,
- To work through the pain of grief,
- To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing,
- To maintain an emotional connection with the deceased while moving on with life.
Along with each of these main tasks are numerous sub-tasks. If clients feel these tasks will be helpful for them, Brenda offers to support the process of working through them.
Enhancing the Quality of Relationships
When couples seek counselling for difficulties in their relationships, they have often made numerous attempts to resolve conflicts on their own, with varying degrees of success. Brenda assists couples to identify what has worked well for them and encourages them to build on these successes. Failed attempts to resolve problems often involve win-lose scenarios where one or both partners attempt to impose their “solutions” on the other i.e., solutions in which one person “wins” and the other “loses.” Such solutions are usually detrimental to relationships i.e., they often lead to lose-lose results. Compromises, whereby each person agrees on a solution that is about halfway between what each would like, are often also unsatisfying for both parties. In contrast, when people work together creatively, it is often possible to develop “win-win” solutions i.e., ones where both parties feel satisfied. Brenda engages actively in supporting couples to achieve win-win solutions.