Young Change Makers: Why and How Dr Patricia Celan Is Helping To Change Our World
Language matters. When I speak to patients, I need to be careful about what I say. One poorly chosen word can trigger a person to the point that they mentally relive a traumatic incident in the past. Caution is needed, because careless mistakes can negatively impact whether I can continue to help people or if they have shut down.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Patricia Celan.
Dr. Patricia Celan is a Canadian physician currently working for the Nova Scotia Health Authority. She obtained her MD at the University of British Columbia. She is currently in postgraduate training to specialize in psychiatry.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Thank you for the invitation! On the surface, I grew up in what appeared to be an average, lower-middle-class family in the Vancouver area of BC, Canada. Behind closed doors, my family was dysfunctional and filled with abuse. For various reasons, we were stuck in an unhealthy situation for a long time. I have always felt that nobody deserves that kind of experience, whether as a child or a spouse, and that motivates some of my work to this day.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Elizabeth Murray’s memoir, “Homeless to Harvard”, had a positive impact on me. Her childhood was even more dysfunctional than mine, and she managed to dig herself out of that situation and reach accomplishments that most people don’t reach even within healthy families. She is an inspiration to anyone who may feel abuse holds them back — nothing needs to hold you back if you don’t allow it.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Any contribution we make toward improving someone’s life or society as a whole is making a difference, no matter how small or large. Even simply planting seeds in people’s minds, so that they can start thinking about whether to stay or leave an abusive relationship, makes a difference. For example, I have worked with a patient who was not interested in leaving her abusive relationship when I first met her, but I let her know that my objective assessment was that there was, at minimum, clear psychological abuse in her relationship. Because I had planted the idea that her situation was unhealthy, she spent more time questioning whether she still wanted to remain in that relationship. After a few months, the abuse escalated, and she ended the relationship just as conflict was starting to become physical. She later let me know that my comments in our first session made a difference.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I am a person of many passions, so there are several ways I am working on making positive change in our world. Since I have spoken about some of my other passions in other Authority Magazine interviews, I will focus today on my work in raising awareness about abuse and escape options.
I created a website, IsThatAbuse.com, with the purpose of informing both abuse victims and abusers. For example, the website includes general information about signs of abuse; an auto-calculating abuse quiz that tells respondents how much abuse they’re receiving or inflicting; area-specific lists of resources across Canada; and more. The goal of this website is to inform people who may be unsure if they’re experiencing abuse because of cultural factors, gaslighting, or never learning about abuse in the first place. Once people know that what they’re experiencing is wrong, they can learn more about how to either improve the situation or how to get help to leave the situation. My goal is for nobody in Canada to stay in abusive situations without some form of change.
I am also currently on the Board of Directors for Avalon Centre, a sexual assault centre in Nova Scotia. We provide services such as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, counseling services, and initiatives for prevention, intervention, and awareness.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I have been passionate about this cause because my own family experienced abuse for a long time. My mother stayed in her abusive marriage longer than she needed to because of the common reasons — culture, gaslighting, fear of leaving, and lack of awareness about her options. I don’t want anyone else to go through that, when solutions are available with proper education and resources.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I have been involved in pageantry since I was a teenager. Most people don’t realize that pageants are not simply beauty contests. In fact, the most objectively beautiful person doesn’t always win. Pageants are largely a character competition, with behind-the-scenes extended interviews with judges before contestants even step onto the stage. A major component of pageants is the platform topic, meaning that each contestant takes on a cause that she would like to champion as part of her possible year as a winning titleholder. After a break from pageants, I returned to the world of pageantry in my late 20s and was awarded the Mrs. Canada title in September 2020. I used my platform to begin making meaningful change about abuse awareness, and created IsThatAbuse.com. I plan to represent Canada in the Mrs. International, Mrs. World, and Mrs. Universe pageants in upcoming years, and I hope to expand my website to help people in many countries beyond my own.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I started with doing some research — what is available, where is there a need, and how can I synthesize what’s out there into one clear, easily accessible central resource that refers to other resources. After researching, I created an outline, and then I populated that outline with meaningful content, with help from volunteers. The practical aspect of putting it all together on a website came last and was less significant than the plan around content, which is where the real work happened.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
I received hate mail from someone who had scored highly on the abuse quiz and realized he was an abuser. He seemed to be unhappy with that realization and expressed his anger at me for creating that website. People like that are the reason that my website needs to exist, because he needs to recognize his abusive tendencies before he can start to fix them, and his partner needs to also see it and consider all available options if there is little likelihood of change.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
When building the website, I fumbled and ended up making so many mistakes that the coding format was lost and the website layout was a chaotic mess! I learned from that that it is okay to ask for help from someone who has more experience with coding; I don’t need to do everything on my own. Teamwork is often the key to success.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Yes, my husband often cheerleads my projects and ideas, and he helped with this project too. Specifically, he helped with HTML coding and populating the resource page of the website.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Someone reached out to thank me because she came to the realization that she was being abused after casually scrolling through my website. She ended up leaving an unhealthy situation and is now in trauma recovery.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
1. Communities can be more caring and watchful. Every single person can and should familiarize themselves with the signs of abuse, so that they can notice abusive situations and offer support to the victim.
2. While abuse can happen in any direction regardless of gender, abuse does tend to be gendered and motivated by patriarchal attitudes and values. As a society, we need to work harder to achieve equality and equity between the sexes.
3. The government needs to fund more organizations that help victims. As a member of the Avalon Centre Board of Directors, I can say that the level of funding is indicative of the government’s priorities, and supporting victims of abusive crimes needs to be a bigger priority.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
1. There is no right way to be an abuse victim. Someone who may not appear to fit the classic image or behavior of a victim may still have experienced abuse. Everyone carries their burdens differently, and expressing skepticism to someone in a vulnerable position can be very harmful.
2. Language matters. When I speak to patients, I need to be careful about what I say. One poorly chosen word can trigger a person to the point that they mentally relive a traumatic incident in the past. Caution is needed, because careless mistakes can negatively impact whether I can continue to help people or if they have shut down.
3. Some abusers can and do want to change, and with patience and appropriate therapy and treatment, they can. However, there have been many times when I have seen the opposite. In those cases, the best option is to leave, not keep fighting a losing battle.
4. Types of abuse can be complicated. While we can create a textbook list of what constitutes abuse, there can be different, creative ways that people inflict harm on others. Lists of examples of abuse are therefore a general starting point, but they are not to be rigidly applied to every situation.
5. Sometimes people are not ready to leave an abusive situation or to explore the trauma of a past abusive situation. Pushing people who aren’t ready is counterproductive, except where children are involved and protective services must legally be contacted. Otherwise, being supportive and available is a good first step, and people will make choices toward progress on their own time.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Living life hedonistically and without considering the impact we have on others can only be exciting and satisfying for a limited amount of time. Eventually, people realize that their lives aren’t satisfying without finding meaning. Young people can find value and meaning in making a positive impact in the world. Helping others is a gift that keeps on giving.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I would love to have lunch with the current Miss Universe, Andrea Meza! As far as I know, she is the first openly vegan Miss Universe winner, so she is doing great things to combat abuse of both people and animals. What an inspiration!
How can our readers follow you online?
Feel free to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/patriciacelan, Instagram at instagram.com/patriciacelan, or check out my website PatriciaCelan.com for links to my other social media!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!