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Therapist launches 'emotional intelligence' program for girls

Pandemic-induced anxiety 'could have been prevented if this kind of education was provided earlier,' says Barrie Anxiety Clinic founder
Yuliya Levina, founder of the Barrie Anxiety Clinic, has launched The School of Emotional Intelligence “Girls Confidence Club.”

Pandemic-induced anxiety has prompted a local therapist to launch new program for girls.

Barrie is now home the School of Emotional Intelligence group for girls, described as the first in Canada.

Yuliya Levina, founder of the Barrie Anxiety Clinic, a local family mental health centre, launched the School of Emotional Intelligence group to encourage social and emotional well-being for pre-teen and teenage girls.

“After the pandemic, I see huge increases in youth mental health issues and anxiety … that could have been prevented if this kind of education was provided earlier, like at schools, for example,” the clinical therapist tells BarrieToday. “It’s the highest level of anxiety that I’ve ever seen for the past 12 years that I’ve been practising in Canada.”

Levina, a psychotherapist who works with families, initially focused on anxiety disorders and conditions such as depression and addictions, and in recent years has been focusing on personality disorders. She describes seeing low self-esteem and concerns in interpersonal interaction resulting in behavioural problems at school.

In developing the School of Emotional Intelligence “Girls Confidence Club” to address the concerns she has seen develop, Levina says she has received a great deal of support in the community.

“Barrie is a wonderful city that welcomed us with its arms wide open. After 10 years in Canada, I finally felt like home,” she says.

After developing the program for girls between 10 and 16 years of age she set out in search of a place to hold it. During her search, she discovered the Sandbox Centre, a not-for-profit business centre in downtown Barrie which is providing the space she needs.

Levina says since arriving in Barrie with her family nearly four years ago, she has received a great deal of encouragement and support on the professional front.

Increased emotional intelligence, she explains, is linked to the ability to understand, use and manage emotions in to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. She says it is linked to better academic performance, mental health, relationships and career success.

Through her program, she hopes to help in develop confident girls and future leaders.

Her approach through the six-week Girls Confidence Club program is intended to provide the service through a group session of up to 10 girls. Each class targets different areas, including thoughts, emotion, behaviour, interpersonal skills, self-esteem and body image. The program uses visual material and includes role play and interaction in groups that will be divided by age.

“It’s very specific and it’s very goal-oriented,” says Levina. “It’s also fun.”

Levina says she decided to launch the program with a focus on girls because they are more receptive to discussing their emotions and more willing to understand what they’re going through.

The pandemic, she adds, has resulted in significant increases in technology addictions that has impacted the brain's perception of stimulus as well as impacting their social skills. For youth, that denial of interaction occurred during their development years when they would typically learn how to engage with the opposite gender, for example.

Lack of access to facial expression, particularly in the younger stages, Levina points out, has also resulted in a gap in how children interact socially.

“We don’t know yet in the neuro-scientific field how it impacted the brain development, but what I see is that we’re going to be dealing with it for many generations ahead,” she says. “That’s why we need more education, other than academic education.”

Levina says she would like to see more widespread knowledge and education related to what she describes as an invisible pandemic for other professionals to help them understand the issues, given that psychotherapy isn’t universally available.

Levina forged an unusual path to her profession, and Barrie. She had immigrated from Belarus to Canada as a qualified teacher, but the lack of Canadian experience prevented her from landing a job here. So, she took a sales job with a phone company and went back to school at age 31.

After graduating from Seneca College, the mother of two worked the overnight shifts as a counsellor at the York Region Emergency Youth Shelter and continued her studies at York University. From there, she worked at the Canadian Mental Health Association and opened a private practice.

In 2020, she made the move to Barrie with her children and, two years later, opened the Barrie Anxiety Clinic on Quarry Ridge Road, a mental health centre for children, youth, and adults.

“My biggest professional challenge was my beliefs shaped by my cultural background, the environment I grew up in, and the adversity I was exposed to," Levina says. "The skill of turning adversity into an opportunity for personal and professional growth was probably the best one I've learned.

"Now I feel like I have been rewarded with my career, my loved ones, and my community."