Meet Eleanor, the founder of and lead Peer Support Specialist at Mood Mend.

She has lived experience of “mental illness” and has been in symptom-free recovery since 2010. Eleanor has a lifetime of experience in the arts, particularly the narrative arts (writing, storytelling) and visual arts (photorealistic painting), with a background in Publishing alongside 15 years in the mental health branch of the non-profit sector. She has a BA in English Literature and a Postgrad in Publishing and is currently completing her Social Service Worker diploma and pursuing registration with the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW) and Peer Support Certification through Peer Support Canada. She completed Peer Support training through the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO), the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Cota Health, and Robyn Priest: Live Your Truth. In 2019, she won an award for best exemplifying the value of hope in her work at Cota Health.

She has over 10,000 hours of Peer Support experience and has worked with clients with all manner of mental health and substance use challenges, histories of trauma, justice involvement, and homelessness, Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), Concurrent Disorders, Dual Diagnoses (DD), and Geriatric Mental Health (GMH), one-on-one in their homes and in community, consumer/survivor/ex-patient and institutional settings.

Eleanor gained experience volunteering and working for organizations like:

Highlights from her group facilitation history include:

  • a CBT/DBT Skill of the Week virtual peer support group during the Covid-19 lock-down for Cota Health, June 2020 – present
  • two weekly Peer Support Drop-in groups for Cota Health, 2019 – present
  • a weekly Peer Support Drop-in group at the Oakridges Health and Harm Reduction Hub for Cota Health, February – April 2020
  • two weekly Peer Support groups – Writing for Wellness™ (Narrative Therapy based) and Conscious Creativity™ (Art Therapy based) – at St. Joseph’s Health Centre for the Mental Health Support Network and then for Mood Mend, 2016 – 2019
  • a weekly Bipolar Support Group, a Women’s support group and a Youth and Young Adults support group as needed for Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, 2016 – 2017
  • a men’s weekly Peer Support group for The Centre for Men and Families, 2015
  • an 8-week expressive arts program – Graphic Novel Storytelling: The Art of Comics – with author Willow Dawson at Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, 2014

The approach:

While incorporating tools and techniques from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy), and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), Eleanor predominately comes from the Narrative Therapy approach.

Narrative Therapy is like Art Therapy but with words! The focus of the approach is on the manner in which individuals construct meaning rather than on the way they behave. In philosophy and in neuroscience, the “I”/eye or the mind is what they call “the narrative centre of self.” Your mind is constantly generating the story of who you are to yourself and you, in turn, relay it to others. Narrative Therapy seeks to address minds that may be telling themselves problem-saturated narratives e.g. The Trauma Narrative — “I experienced trauma; therefore, I am damaged goods.”

It is a post-modern, talk therapy model (typically done one-on-one rather than in groups), developed by social workers Michael White and David Epston in the 70s and 80s, that focuses on social construction (concept: language doesn’t describe reality, it defines it), meaning making through language and relationships, and broader social and political discourses, all whilst considering multiple vantage points and Sparkling Moments or Unique Outcomes e.g. The Survive to Thrive Narrative — “I experienced trauma, I survived, and I aim to thrive!”

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” ~ Carl Jung

To put this modality to work in a group context, Eleanor has developed a meta-narrative technique – a writing course, Writing for Wellness™, and an art therapy-based course, Conscious Creativity™, meant to address the 5 main principles:

• shared and transformative experience

• naming and unpacking (assessment and intervention)

• meaning making

• listening and experience gathering

• reflection

and 5 intended outcomes of Narrative Therapy:

• increased self-awareness (you are the expert in your own story)

• increased self-compassion

• externalizing problems

• constructing preferred identities

• developing courses of action

The goal is to deconstruct, rewrite (co-author) or re-imagine, and reconstruct the narratives we tell ourselves and others about ourselves in a way that helps us actualize positive change.

For more: My Story, Mission, Vision & Values, Coaching vs. Psychotherapy, Mood Disorders, Recovery