It was during one of her teaching practicums while completing her Bachelor of Education, that 30-year old Cheryl Bradshaw witnessed a tragic event that made her realize being a therapist was her true calling.
“I was teaching a grade twelve class, and we were doing science. During the dissection lab, one of the female students ended up collapsing, and we thought at first that she just fainted because we were cutting frogs open—but after a while, it was clear she hadn’t just fainted—she started to convulse,” Bradshaw recounted. “We called the paramedics, and evacuated the other students, and the paramedics’ team came and helped the student back to consciousness. When they asked her ‘did you take anything?’ she said, ‘Yes’. It turned out that earlier that day, she had tried to take her own life in the girl’s washroom, by overdosing on her medication.”
Later that day, the troubled student contacted Bradshaw, and asked her to pass on a poignant message to the rest of the class; if any of the other students felt a similar despair, they should reach out and ask for help, rather than taking self-destructive measures.
“We were up at the front of the classroom, sharing this message with the rest of the students, and as we were speaking, we just saw all these heads drop, in what was clearly a recognition of the struggle,” said Bradshaw. “I just realized that I had spent the whole week teaching about the circulatory system. Meanwhile, there are all these kids who don’t even know if they want to live to see the next day.”
This experience proved to be the catalyst for Bradshaw’s passion for helping others as a psychologist. It is precisely this passion and dedication that has led to her winning Yorkville University‘s inaugural Outstanding Alumni Award.
“I needed and wanted to do more, and to work with kids in a different way,” Bradshaw said.
“For me it just didn’t feel the same to teach arithmetic and the cycles of photosynthesis when there was so much struggle in these students’ lives that needed addressing. So, I graduated with my BEd., but then I looked into what to do next, and I found the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program at Yorkville University. It was a perfect fit for what I needed to change gears, and to do so quickly.”
During Bradshaw’s time as a Yorkville University student, she thrived in her classes, receiving top marks and developing a reputation for generosity and as someone who was always open to helping her fellow students. While studying for her MACP, she also had an opportunity to take stock of her own experiences as a young person, and came to the realization that she herself would have benefitted immensely from having had an opportunity to talk about and excavate her feelings more fully, especially since Bradshaw herself went through some traumas a difficulties, as we all do.
“I never did any counselling myself, and while in the MACP program, I ended up wishing that I had. I lost my best friend who was killed in an avalanche in grade ten, and there wasn’t a lot of talk about it or support for me. Everyone was caring and kind and checked in, but there were definitely things that, after doing the program myself, I thought should have been handled much differently,” she recalled.
In addition to gaining the expertise and accreditation to become a registered clinical counsellor, the flexibility of the MACP program was well-suited to her lifestyle.
“It was wonderful to wake up in the morning, turn on my computer and then to be able to push pause on whatever lecture or video or learning was happening to run off, if necessary. I’m a real go-getter kind of person anyway, so [the format] fit my learning style well. I could get it done at my own pace,” she said.
The Yorkville MACP program also played an important part in helping her to establish her family.
“I had been with my boyfriend [prior to beginning the MACP] for over five years long-distance, and it was time to make something happen or not. I wanted to move forward with my life and Yorkville allowed me to do that. I finally moved in with him, and we are now married. So the Yorkville program was part of my marriage,” she said, laughing.
Bradshaw’s passion for supporting others on their journey to emotional awareness, resilience and integrity, and her longstanding interest in working with young people, led her to one of her recent triumphs: the 2016 publication of her book, ‘How to Like Yourself’, released by New Harbinger Publications, one of the largest publishers of self-help books.
‘How to Like Yourself’ is a versatile manual, geared towards young adults, but applicable to anyone who is looking for a strategic method to boost their self-esteem.
“What I find is that parents are usually the ones buying it,” explained Bradshaw. “And often they read it first, then pass it along to their kids, which is great. If parents know context of the book, they can help their child work through it or think about it. I actually have a huge readership in their 20s and 30s as well, and those folks tend to read it and do the work themselves, whereas teens tend to benefit from more of a scaffolding approach, if they have a good relationship with their parents.”
In her book, as in her private practice, Bradshaw focuses in large part on an individual’s relationship to self, emotional awareness, how emotions impact the body, and ways to recognize emotions somatically, especially in a sometimes-frantic culture.
“Life is so busy for so many families. There is a lot of ‘managing the outward symptoms’, or the details of what’s going at the surface level. There isn’t always the time, ability or comfort level to go inward,” she acknowledged.
“As a parent, you want to do everything you can to keep your kids safe and happy. But there is long-term importance and value in experiencing the full range of emotions: distress and disappointment and regret and all those negative emotions also have to be felt and experienced and supported in the right way–in the same way that you teach a young child to walk,” she said. “You help them as they start. As they get better, you step back a bit and you watch them fall. That’s ok, until eventually they’re walking and talking and running laps around you. It’s a similar approach, but on the emotional side of things. You can help young people in small doses go through the hard stuff.”
Bradshaw has since written two more books for which she is presently working to find publishers, and she has a fourth book in the works.
She is also on the cusp of moving her counselling work entirely to her private-practice in Waterdown, Ontario, after several years of working as a counsellor for post-secondary institutions.
In all, Cheryl Bradshaw is an exemplary alumnus, and highly worthy of the honour of winning the inaugural Outstanding Alumni Award. For Bradshaw though, the objective is always to support her clients, and her community.
“I really see the value and benefit of counselling and we should all have a chance to talk about these things. Life is struggle, and beauty and suffering. We can’t run from it, so we might as well embrace it.”
Contributed by Yolande Clark. Yolande is Yorkville University’s Alumni Relations Officer. In addition to connecting with Yorkville’s amazing alumni, she loves to read and to spend time with her family.
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