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Sunday, December 21, 2014

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TV psychotherapist draws on personal experiences

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Stacey Dombrowsky

Stacey Dombrowsky didn’t know she wanted to become a therapist until she found herself facing some major life challenges.

“Growing up, I always thought that I just didn’t know how to stop eating,” said the 37-year-old psychoanalyst and addictions counsellor. “It was debilitating, and it disabled me.”

She said her addiction to food became an obsession to the point where she wasn’t able to work, and at times, she felt as though she couldn’t survive with the addiction.

But then she found a miracle, she said. “I realized I have so much to offer the world – how would I overcome what I’m facing?” She sought help to work through her addiction, and eventually recovered by the time she was 32, but she said it took years and many different methods of treatment before she was able to face her own addiction.

These days, Dombrowsky has been devoting her life to helping people with their problems, partly through her own private practice in Markham, Ont., where she treats patients with a variety of issues. For example, her patients might have a drug addiction or an eating disorder, but they might also be facing depression or anxiety. Others are simply looking for support or advice about their personal or professional lives.

Over the past few months, she has expanded the number of people she can help through a weekly live call-in show on Rogers TV called Mind Matters, which she has been producing and hosting since September. On the show, she has guests – experts in different fields – and together, they answer viewers’ questions based on a given theme each week.

The themes range a lot – from depression to eating disorders, and even dream analysis. Dombrowsky said she believes she has the ability to help with any of these issues partly because she has formally studied some of these areas – for example, she studied addictions at McMaster University – but also because she has experienced a similar problem firsthand.

Treating patients over the phone brings its own challenges, she said. “I don’t really know them, [so] I have to use my intuition to guide them.” She described the method as taking her own experiences out of the picture, and trying to find the best advice for each caller.

“I think I have mini-births and deaths every day – little transformations… I know how to get through my own challenges,” she said. “Today, I understand what it means to pick myself back up and move through it rather than sit through my stuff.”

Dombrowsky spoke about the power of healing through non-traditional methods. For example, she described her treatment involving “inner child work.” She explained that this means she asks patients to reconnect with their childhood self and say what they think of the childhood version and what the inner child thinks of the adult version.

“You’ve never met this person before, but it’s a part of you that’s there but you didn’t know was there,” she said. “What comes up is they had that fear and that’s how we get over the fear.”

She learned some of her techniques at a Toronto school called the Transformational Arts College of Spiritual and Holistic Training. In 2011, while she was in the middle of the program, she faced what she called a near-death experience after she fell off a horse. Although she damaged her body, she said, the experience led her to become more spiritual.

“I’m way more energetically inclined now. I’m way more in touch with my body. I was always intuitive, but now it’s reached another height… so I saw that as a good experience.”

She said she read up on internal focusing, which taught her how to heal her own body.

“Through that experience, I can now sense what other people are experiencing in their own bodies,” she said, adding that she’s not saying she has the power to heal people, but rather that she can feel the energy of someone who is open to it.

Six months after her accident, she joined a team of fundraisers on a journey to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for Markham Stouffville Hospital’s child and adolescent mental health clinic. She had 50 days to raise the minimum requirement of $10,000. She said her family immediately told her she was crazy to try to reach the top, especially given the remaining effects of her accident.

“But who I am is somebody who is so determined, absolutely fearless,” she said. “I felt it had a purpose to it.”

In the end, she was one of six team members who made it to the top.

“It’s mind over matter – there was not even a question in my mind that I was not going to make it,” she said, adding that the final stretch was particularly gruelling, given that they climbed in the dark.

“That’s like going on a Stairmaster at level 20 with 20 pounds of bricks on your back in the dark. If I were to do it during the day, I don’t think I would have done it if I could see what I was doing.”

But she called it an amazing experience – though not one she plans to repeat.

Dombrowsky said it’s her determination that got her through life’s challenges, and she would advise anybody struggling with addiction to persevere.

“If you’re afraid to see the light, that’s when it doesn’t happen,” she said. “If you continue to look for a way through it… there’s no way you can’t find peace.”

Mind Matters airs live Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Rogers TV.

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