Amrita Sandhu has known since childhood it was her destiny to be a counsellor.
A painfully shy kid growing up, it was only while wearing her special ‘Peer Counsellor’ jacket around the school playground in Grade 3 that she ever truly came out of her shell.
“I remember feeling a strong sense of pride in wearing that jacket. It just felt right. I was a very, very shy and anxious kid, but when that jacket was on, that all dissipated,” said Sandhu, who was recently named valedictorian of Yorkville University’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program.
“I wasn’t a kid who ever participated in anything – that was literally the only thing I had the courage to pursue. So, I seriously believe, as cliché as it sounds, that I was meant to be in this role.”
That isn’t to say Sandhu’s path to fulfilling her life’s passion was a straightforward one, though – she had more than a few detours along the way.
Immediately after graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology back in 2012, Sandhu got married, and soon after that, found herself office-bound at her in-laws’ South Asian food manufacturing plant, where she worked for the next five years.
In that same time, she also had two children – a son, now six, and a daughter, now three – and wrote a popular South Asian fiction novel entitled Chasing Kismet.
“Between balancing motherhood and family obligations and following this path that I thought I had no other choice but to follow…it felt like that chapter of my life (as an aspiring counsellor) was closed,” she explained.
In the summer of 2018, however, Sandhu experienced some life changes that led her to re-evaluate whether or not she was serving her true purpose.
“Throughout those five years, I recall having these repetitive dreams: I’d be writing a psychology exam and I just could not get through it. I think in the back of my mind I always knew that this was my calling and that I had unfinished business when it came to my schooling,” she said, noting that her parents were in full support of her decision to chase her dreams.
“So, I got that little nudge, that little push when I realized this cookie-cutter life just wasn’t cutting it for me and that it was finally time to live in full colour and to tap into all that untouched potential and live to my highest being. And that’s what I did – I went for it and I applied to Yorkville.”
While her road to earning her Master’s degree wasn’t always an easy one, especially with two small children, Yorkville’s full-slate of online course offerings allowed her the flexibility she needed to succeed.
“I feel like it’s a place for people like me who maybe feel like they can’t have a second go at things. It gives us the opportunity to put our passions into motion and make our dreams a reality,” Sandhu said, likening her Yorkville experience to ‘breaking open and starting anew.’
For Sandhu, ultimately earning her Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology wasn’t just a remarkable personal achievement – it was also about challenging cultural norms, gender roles and the notion that women are meant to put their dreams on the backburner and serve the greater good.
Crediting her young children for the ‘huge role’ they played in her success, Sandhu said it was them who pushed her to tap into the well of courage she needed to chase her dreams.
“They’re my biggest supporters. When I explained the concept of valedictorian to my son, he was really excited for me. He likens it to winning an award or a trophy,” she laughed.
“It’s really exciting to be able to show them that anything is possible, especially my daughter, so she learns from my example that you don’t have to fall victim to circumstance; that you can push through.”
Since finishing her studies at Yorkville, Sandhu has ‘hit the ground running’ and, under the encouragement of her supervisor, peers and colleagues, opened up her own practice called Therapy Cove Counselling.
Based out of Vancouver, the virtual practice offers both individual counselling sessions utilizing traditional talk therapies such Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectal Behavioural Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, as well as Mindfulness-based Somatic Therapy sessions, which utilizes guided visualization, restoration postures, and deep breathing exercises.
“It’s purely virtual and it’s really taken off. I’m really humbled and sometimes kind of awestruck by just how great it is and how much support I’m able to provide to people from all walks of life,” she said.
“That’s what counselling has always been about for me – to be a voice for ethnic minorities and to challenge those cultural stereotypes and biases. That is where my passion is, so to be able to do that every day is a dream come true, for sure. It was the goal before I even knew it was a goal.
“It just goes to show that if something is your calling, you’ll find your way back to it.”