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Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One)


Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 16.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Twelve)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain:

Individual Publication Date: February 22, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 11,749

ISSN 2369-6885


An extensive interview with Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. He discusses: Growing up; having a monkey, first Canadian sex store own mom, and artistic bipolar father; university selection; clinical practice work and methodological specialization.

Keywords: clinical psychology, media consultant, Oren Amitay, registered psychologist.

Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was life like growing up – geography, culture, and language? 

Dr. Oren Amitay: I was raised speaking Hebrew, which I do not speak at all. At one-year-old, my brother, who was three at the time, came into the family by way of adoption. He did not speak Hebrew so my parents began speaking English with him and me.

At one-year-old, I suddenly had my language changed. I was spoken to only in English, like my brother. That messed things up with my language. I had to go to speech therapy after that. Obviously, I don’t remember this period of my life, but that has been told to me.

I grew up in Montreal for the first three years of my life, in an English-speaking part as opposed to French, and then my parents came here to Toronto, where I am currently, when I was 3. My mother started a business here: Canada’s first sex store, Lovecraft.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: I do remember part of the drive to Toronto. We were run into by a doctor in his car. He paid my mother some cash to help us get to Toronto and to tow our car. This is our day of moving there. I sort of remember that.

As mentioned, my mother opened Canada’s first sex store. She is a pioneer and some call her the grandmother of Canada’s sex industry. My father was an artist—a well-respected, but crazy artist, crazy, literally, because he had bipolar disorder. It was undiagnosed until he was in his 50s, likely because, when you are an artist, people expect you to “act crazy” as he did.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: That was part of his artistic temperament. We lived in a middle-class(ish) neighbourhood but were one of the poorer families there. Sex may sell, but when you’re the first sex store in Canada, it takes a while for people to adapt to that.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: I never had much money growing up. I started working at ten-years-old. I was delivering papers and have literally been working ever since. My parents paid for the roof over our heads and food, but, since ten, I have been paying my own way.

But it also depends on what you call poor. We did have a tiny home, my parents had an old beat-up car, we went on one international vacation in childhood, but my parents made the most out of it, I never felt “poor.” I knew what poor was and our financial situation didn’t hinder us that much.

Back then, the social pressure was not as bad as it is today to have all of the cool things. We never did have any of those cool things, but we did have things other kids didn’t have; my dad would make some really cool presents for Christmas or our birthdays.

Also, we were one of the coolest families in the neighbourhood, with my mother having opened Canada’s first sex store; that gives you cache as a kid, even with adults. Also, we had a monkey for a while.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: So, that is my early upbringing.

2. Jacobsen: A little bit further ahead of that. How was having a monkey, having a mother with the first Canadian sex store as well as having a bipolar artistic father in high school? Some of that I would see as bringing good social cache and other parts of it I could see not bringing so much of that.

Amitay: The monkey and stuff were in our earlier years. I think we were a pretty popular family. I will tell a side story. I always thought that our norm was “the norm”. If that is what your family is like, you don’t know any differently at the time.

I really thought our was pretty normal in most ways and I thought everyone else felt the same way. I was a little jock, I played sports all of the time and I was friends with a lot of people in the neighbourhood. Everything seemed normal.

Then, I was back in my old neighbourhood a number of years ago and I decided to check out my old house. I saw a car in the parking lot and I saw a woman was home. I was going through my wallet, pulling out my Ryerson University ID saying, “Look, I am not going to kill you. I want to come in and check out my childhood home until I was 12-years-old.”

She let me in. She wouldn’t let me come upstairs–I can understand. She said, “Come back another time, maybe.” Anyway, we were talking and I said, “When we sold our house, we sold it to this famous Canadian boxer named Shawn O’Sullivan. He won the silver medal in the 1984 Olympics and was on all these Red Lobster commercials.”

She said, “Cool, cool, I have something even cooler. I heard that some people before me,” (she wasn’t sure how many families before), “I heard the family before me was a cult…”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: “…run by a lesbian witch.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: I said, “Did you hear that from a guy called ____?” It blew her mind. She was like, “How did you know, of all the people that could have said that?” I won’t get into detail about how I knew who had told her about the lesbian part and why they would have said that (it was not true), but I couldn’t understand the witch or cult leader part. So, right after I left the house, I called my mom and asked her. She was thinking and thinking and then she put the pieces together: My father, the artist, used to make candles for my mother’s store when she first opened up. The candles happened to be in the shape of penises.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: In order to air out the candles and get them to dry, he would put them on the front porch on the banister. So, apparently, we had all these penises lined up like heads on a stake. I do not remember that, but that is one of the things that was normal for us.

The woman also told me that she was Italian and the old Italian women in the neighbourhood– she said she was not exaggerating—the few Italian women there (the neighbourhood was almost all white and a few Greek families; there were only two black kids in the whole neighbourhood—one being my brother) would follow her up and down the street, telling her in Italian that the house was cursed and saying, “you have to let us exorcise the house.” She said they were literally throwing holy water at her but she wouldn’t let them do this ritual with the house they apparently believed was possessed. That was all until 12-years-old.

We moved to another neighbourhood at that time. It was very different. It was more an inner-city type neighbourhood. My brother and I were not prepared for that. We adjusted pretty quickly though. You see, when you were raised the way we were, we weren’t raised to follow trends.

As social animals, especially around 12-15 years old all you want to do is connect with other people, be a part of the group. A part of me wanted that and I was a part of a bunch of very different groups, but I never felt like I had to be in any of them. I spent a lot of time alone.

I went from group to group to group to group. No real allegiances to any group but I did have a very small number of close friends in my first two years of high school. My father by that time had been divorced from my mother for a number of years, but I still saw him pretty regularly.

Back to trends: I rarely followed any trends, aside from the heavy metal music we listened to. I did my own thing and set a number of trends—or I was the first kid (or one of the first kids) to be doing certain things. I was always the bad kid and had to go to three different schools. I pissed off the principals and teachers and many of the students. I usually had the top grades in my classes but I also had the most absences; my absences for each class were usually as high as my grades. I also got caught for doing a lot of really stupid things I cannot disclose, but fortunately, I did not get caught for most of the terrible things I did.

So, I had to go from school to school, to school; that is how I passed my high school years. I do not remember much; it was all a haze of doing stupid, self-destructive things and wasting a lot of time and definitely most of my potential. But then, after four years of screwing around, in grade 13 (we had five years of high school back then; now it’s technically four, although many kids choose to do one more year before heading off to university), I knew that if I wanted to go to university then I had to smarten up. So, I put in three months of hard work, got really good grades and got accepted into all of the universities to which I applied. Then, after that one term, I went back to old habits [Laughing], having fun basically. So, three months of hard work out of five years of high school got me into university. I’m not sure what it’s like now, but there you go.

3. Jacobsen: [Laughing] When released, so to speak, from family dynamics, especially your father, entering into university, no more monkey. No more penis candles. No more holy water to exorcise the family.

What university did you choose? Why did you choose it? What did you end up taking in it?

Amitay: First, my father was still in the picture. They were divorced, but my mom was very generous. She always had more money than he did. Her store became successful around the time of the divorce, when I was about 10 or 11, maybe a bit later.

So, my sister, who is eight years younger than I am and was adopted at three months of age, benefitted; she got all she wanted. When we moved to the new neighbourhood, I did not get a new paper route at first. Instead, I asked my mom, “Can I have an allowance?” She said, “What? Are you lazy? Get a job.” So, I got a paper route the next day and then asked her for an allowance. Her response? “You have a job and are making your own money; why do you want more from me?” That was always her mentality: Work hard and pay your own way.

I had started to say that, notwithstanding her philosophy on an allowance for me, she was very generous. On the weekends, she would leave the house and my father would stay in her house for the weekend with the kids. It was mostly for my younger sister – not my brother and me. We did our own thing. He was almost always in the picture, in a peripheral way, but he was involved with my younger sister. It is not like I didn’t have a father.

My mother also got a new husband, whom my father had known first. He introduced my father to his career at the CBC and my father introduced him to my mother.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: They have the same name and couldn’t be any different than two people or men: totally opposite ends of the spectrum. That happened when I was 10 or 11 years old, shortly after my parents broke up. It was a huge shift in my perception of people, dynamics, and so on.

Getting back to university, I had earned a scholarship to go to Western University, which is in a small town known for business. But I said, “I am not going to go to Western. I would rather stay at home in the city I know.” So, I decided to go to the University of Toronto, which is still considered one of the best universities in Canada for whatever reason.

Then, maybe a month before university started, a very, very old family friend—I have known her and her siblings since I was 3; they are the children of my mom’s former business partner—she came back from Japan and told me all these great stories about her time there. This was 1987; there was this first wave of people going to Japan then. Canada had this special arrangement with Japan that Australia, New Zealand, and the UK had, which was the “Working Holiday Visa – you can travel, study, do whatever for a year without needing to be sponsored: total freedom.

She went to Japan on this visa and lived in the countryside. I thought, “That’s cool.” So, one month before university began, I suddenly decided to go to Japan and, within maybe two months, I was there on a Working Holiday Visa days after my 19th birthday. Ironically, at first, I chose not to go to Western because I thought it was too far from all of my family, friends, and comforts in Toronto. A few months later, I was in Japan and spent the year there – a year and a few months. I was making really good money, having such a great time, and I met a young woman my age over there.

As a side note, I had to return to Canada after one year because that was how long this special visa was for; it was for six months but you could renew it for another six months while in Japan. Japanese visiting Canada apparently could return to Japan after one year and get another Working Holiday Visa for one more year (they may have been able to do it a few more times), so I was told by Japanese consulate staff that I would be able to do the same thing.

I, therefore, left all of my things in Japan—including the nice house in which I was living, my many private students, a private school at which I was working (the owners had essentially taken me in like a son) and my girlfriend—fully expecting to return in a few weeks. In Canada, however, I was told that we were, in fact, able to get only one Working Holiday Visa for Japan (and the UK, Australia and New Zealand, I believe) in our lifetime. When I told them about how I had left everything in Japan, they told me I could return on a three-month Tourist Visa to settle up my affairs over there.

I refused and explained that I had to go back for another year, if not longer. Over the next week or so, I kept speaking to different embassy representatives over the phone on a nearly daily basis, working my way up to the very top: either the Lieutenant Governor of Canada or the Governor General of Canada (I really should know the difference but I was still 19 and did not care who it was, as long as they would give me what I wanted). Each time I spoke with someone, I kept explaining how much I had fallen in love with Japan and told them that one year was not enough time to truly get to know the country and its culture, which was the whole point of the Visa program.

The Lieutenant Governor of Canada or the Governor General of Canada was apparently compelled by my reasoning and granted me the second Working Holiday Visa for Japan—the first time this had ever happened. They apparently realized that it made sense to let those who really loved Japan to stay longer under the same conditions so they eventually made it a policy for everyone.

When I arrived in Japan, however, no one in Customs would stamp my passport because they had never seen anyone receive two such visas. My Japanese was pretty good at the time so I could understand that each person they called over tried to get someone else to make the decision because no one wanted to risk getting in trouble for letting me in, just in case my second Visa was a fraud. They finally did get a senior official to let me through.

A funny side note was that I had brought a bunch of souvenirs from Canada, most of them being from my mom’s store. The airport agents were amused but suspicious of this 19-year-old foreigner who was explaining in pretty good Japanese what all of these very strange items were in a tactful manner.

Once I resumed my life in Japan, with the way everything was going I thought, “Screw university. I’ll start an English school in Japan.” My life in Japan, especially after I had met my girlfriend, was nothing like I had ever experienced. I was leading a hedonistic and pretty easy life and I lost any motivation to do the hard work I would need to do in order to live successfully in Canada.

Thank goodness, my mother was smart enough to say, “Come back to Canada and try at least one year in university; you’re too smart to waste your brain doing what you’re doing.” I resented her greatly at the time and returned to Canada prematurely in order to shut her up. Interestingly, I had similarly resented her a few years before that because I had always assumed I would take over Lovecraft since I was a kid. It was the family business. It was a cool store and I was lazy.

Most kids whose parents run their own business say at some point, “Why do I have to go to school? Why don’t I just train with you and take over the business?” That was my mindset as well. When I asked her the same question at around 17 or 18 years old—we were likely talking about my going to university—my mother looked at me and said, “No, you’re not taking over Lovecraft. I am simply a store owner; I’m in retail. You are better than that.”

So, at 20, I left Japan early to apply to the University of Toronto, which I commenced weeks before my 21st birthday. But I was really doing it only to shut my mother up. I was planning on going right back to Japan after the first year so that I could return to the easy and fun life I had been enjoying.

Now, I cannot get into the next part of the story, other than to say that my first year in university was not good for a variety of reasons. I was, in fact, doing very well, but a number of factors caused my final grades to drop from As/A+s to mostly the B range—aside from my Intro to Psychology course, in which I was able to maintain my A+.

I had no intention of continuing school and I ended up going back and forth between Canada and Japan for the next few years. In the meantime, I worked at a few restaurants in Toronto and then worked at a few language schools here. Just before I turned 22, I believe, I was hired to help set up, open and operate an English/Japanese language school and cultural centre in Toronto, across from the University of Toronto campus, as the director of the English section.

It was a big thing. It was thrilling and great, using my brain and doing all of these things I had never done before as we opened up this new business. I was speaking with lawyers, people from the embassy, lots of business people, politicians and respected members in the Japanese community. Truth be told, the business would never have got anywhere if it were not for my partner in the English section, a hard-nosed, intelligent and ambitious woman who was probably 20 or 25 years my senior. She was really the one who made everything happen but, as a 21- to 22-year-old, I relished all of the challenges with which I was tasked.

After a while, however, everything was in place and running pretty well. I essentially went from being a director and taking on so many new challenges to being an English teacher, doing the same thing I had done in Japan right after turning 19 years old and then in Toronto. Also, my status and salary dropped considerably and I could tell that the respect was no longer there. The bosses were…let’s just say that I could see the writing on the wall.

At some point during this process, I also broke up with my girlfriend, who had returned to Japan after living in Canada for a while. I subsequently met the woman who would end up becoming my wife, here in Toronto. She was also Japanese and ended up returning to Japan once her visa had expired.

I am fast forwarding through a lot but, about one week before my bride to be was about to arrive in Canada with her mother for our impending wedding in June, I started becoming very anxious. I had come to realize that I would need to set up a life here for us, as I did not want to return to Japan to teach English. Also, unlike how things had been planned previously at the language school/cultural centre, I knew I would not be able to fly back and forth between countries to live in both places. I additionally knew I could not survive on the salary I was making at the time, the job was too easy so I was getting bored, and I did not like the work environment that had developed—although I did always love the actual teaching.

I remember standing in my mom’s kitchen by myself, starting to freak out because, if I were to return to school in order to do what I knew in my heart I loved to do—become a psychologist—I would have to return to university for three years to complete the rest of my BSc, followed by one year for a Masters and three years for a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Not only did I think I would be so old by that point—well into my 30s—but I also knew I could not afford not to work for those seven years because I needed to support my wife and myself. And if I tried to go to school part-time while working part-time or even fulltime, it would take many more years to complete everything. On a side note, I was unaware that, for a Masters in Clinical Psychology, it was actually two years, while a Ph.D. was at least four or five years (more typically 7 to 10 years!).

This was about a week before my marriage! My wife to be and her mother were coming over soon and I had to admit to them that I did not know what the hell I was going to do because the great company I had been working at when I first met my wife’s parents was not the same as it had been, nor was my salary. Feeling like I had no viable options and that there was no way things could go the way I would want them to go for the rest of my life, I literally worked myself up into a panic attack in the middle of my mom’s kitchen.

I had never had a panic attack in my life. It was brief and my head was swirling. I felt like I was about to pass out and I kind of collapsed on my mom’s counter. A few seconds later, I got up from the counter and thought, “What am I talking about? I can go to work full-time and school full-time. Why not?” I suddenly snapped back into the person I usually was.

The next day, I arranged to return to the U of T and, about three months later, started my second year. At this point, I was five years older than most students because of all of the time I had taken off over the past number of years.

I continued to work at the same language school/cultural centre, which was right across from the U of T campus. It was near perfect: I would work fulltime during the day and take classes at night and over the summer. I was able to finish my undergraduate degree in the three years it was supposed to take.

And unlike most students in the second year, I knew for sure that I was going to be a psychologist. As mentioned earlier, even though things had happened that messed up the grades in my other courses, I still got the A+ in Intro Psychology and loved the course.

Even some students in their fourth year are unaware that, in order to enter most Graduate Schools for Clinical Psychology, you need to take a very difficult exam called the GRE or the Graduate Record Examination. Conversely, before even beginning the second year, I had already purchased materials to prepare for the GRE a few years later because, again, I knew that I was going all the way to get my Ph.D. and become a registered psychologist.

Fast forward to a few weeks before I graduated from the U of T, the language school/cultural centre fired me without any notice. They did it in such a cold manner, even though I had helped the various owners and their families essentially settle in Canada. In fact, I should have not been surprised because they had done something similar to the senior partner I had mentioned before, and she was really the one who helped everyone be able to come to and reside in Canada.

Besides, to be honest, I had been screwing around at work. I was so focused on school that I was doing the minimum at work.

Unfortunately, they fired me within maybe a few weeks of not only my getting into a serious bike accident, which messed up the end of my school year, but also my experiencing two of the biggest setbacks one can experience in academia—one of which was due to the accident. I got depressed for about a week or two and then snapped out of it. I elaborate on this a bit later.

I ended up getting into graduate school and, by the second year of my Masters, I began teaching at the university and was also doing some clinical work. Before and after that, I also was paid to be a Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant, so all throughout my undergraduate, Masters, and Ph.D., I was working fulltime in addition to my actual academic work.

The good thing about this was that, unlike so many of my colleagues who felt they had put their “real lives” on hold for 4 to 15 years while they went to school, I never felt that way. Although some of my schoolmates would work over the summer or do a bit of part-time work in addition to their work as a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant, they still always felt like a stagnating student or they did not feel as if they had really entered “the real world” yet. This was particularly true for students who went straight from high school to university and then to grad school.

On the contrary, I treated school as a second career, while my teaching and clinical work were my other careers. Unlike most graduate students,  I was never anxiously wondering, “When is school going to end?” Most of my schoolmates felt their careers would not begin until they graduated. For me, getting my Ph.D. would simply enable me to do more in my chosen fields and to make more money in the careers I had already begun to forge several years before.

In addition to learning that sleep really is over-rated, leading dual career/academic lives all throughout my undergrad and graduate degrees taught me about resilience, hardiness, responsibility and so much more. But that was the kind of work ethic and determination I had learned from each of my parents. That was how I became a psychologist.

4. Jacobsen: Also, you are also referencing the upbringing with the [Laughing] penis candles and the mother being a store owner, where the parents have a strong influence on you. That is for Masters and Ph.D. What about clinical practice work? What particular methodologies did you specialize in?

Amitay: I did my Masters and Ph.D. at York University, which has the biggest Clinical Psychology program in Canada with many professors who are well-respected and renowned internationally. It focused mostly on human-centered or client-centered therapy. There was one outright CBT Professor and one Psychodynamic Professor (and a few other orientations) when I was there, but mostly they were more Humanistic or Rogerian, as well as emotion-focused and process experiential.

The thing is, the program was mostly about academics and research, and some of the courses were garbage or entirely irrelevant to becoming a registered psychologist. Such courses, as well as other aspects of the program, basically lengthened our time in it. I said, “This is ridiculous. What are we doing here?”

As an undergraduate, being five years older than most students, I was quite arrogant. I was also not that much younger than some of my professors and was even older than some of my TAs. I was thinking that I had made more money than them when I was still a teenager and in my early 20s, and had lived a far more interesting life than most of them had. I thought that I knew more than they do and that made me, very, very arrogant. I had a big mouth, had a bad attitude and caused a lot of trouble.

I became well-known around the department, but not for the right reasons—although when I started getting 100% on exams, including short-answer and essay-based tests, some TAs I knew told me that others had been mentioning that. I ended up becoming pretty close with some TAs and professors. Whenever there was some luncheon or similar informal get-together for the professors and/or graduate students, I would walk in as if I belonged there, hang out and avail myself of the free food and drinks—usually to excess. I would then head off to class in the right frame of mind; it made the lectures far more tolerable.

One time, during the first or second class of the term, I stayed too long at one of these functions so I brought a glass of wine to the professor as a peace offering; she was relatively young and considered one of the “hottest” profs in the department. I walked in, handed it to her casually and proceeded to sit down as if it was no big deal. She asked my name and we ended up getting to know each other a bit better after that.

By hanging out with the TAs and professors, I could hear what was going on in the department and get a better sense of how things operate. However, I was still a troublemaker and I had a couple of professors say to me every once in a while, “What the hell did you do this time?” One of them told me that, when he was in the faculty lounge and my name would come up, he could see some of his colleagues literally twitch. He would apparently mention my name occasionally just to get a rise out of them!

I say all of this because, when I went to York, I was determined to not repeat the same crap I had been doing for so long. This was because, as alluded to earlier, I experienced several “crises” all around the same time: I was fired from the job that was supporting me and my wife (who was also working at a low-paying job at the time) and, shortly before that, I had been hit by a car a few weeks prior to completing my final undergrad term. The accident prevented me from being able to complete some work on time and I was too proud to ask for an extension.

Also, because I was so determined to get all my work done in time, while still working full-time (I took only one day off after the accident and had checked myself out of hospital against doctor’s orders that day so I could get to class, mangled bike and all), I was popping painkillers like candy. I went into shock and/or had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of one of my classes when I realized I had finished my month’s supply of narcotics within a few days. I ended up back in the hospital that night, experiencing wave after wave of involuntary “shock” or panic.

On a side note, I had done something similar a few years prior: I rolled my ankle playing basketball at the university and, after being taken to hospital, hobbled to class in the middle of a snowstorm with my crutches because it was the last class before the exam and I did not want to risk missing important information. Being very frugal, I took the subway home after class instead of a taxi and, a little after arriving home, I went into shock due to the intense strain stemming from my stupid determination and poor judgment.

Returning to the other story, my failure to ask for any extensions following the accident, together with my subsequent “shock” or panic-induced setback, ended up causing me to screw up my thesis. I was consequently one of the few students who did not get an A on it—I think it ended up being a B+. I had also got a B on a full-year lab/research course due to some conflicts with the professor and my fellow students, and these were the two most important courses prospective Grad School professors/supervisors would look at.

Getting relatively poor grades in these two full-year courses (as opposed to most courses in which I was getting As and A+s that were half-year and thus contributed less to my GPA) was critical because of the next crisis to befall me at that time: I had failed to get accepted into Grad School for a variety of reasons—most of which were my fault, although I did get into a Top-10 program in the US, but the professor/supervisor ended up leaving after she accepted me and thus my offer was nullified.

Now, I had no grad school, no job and, if I were to try once again to get into grad school, my application would be hindered by a GPA that was lower than it had been when I failed to get accepted the first time; because of the timing, applications to grad school are usually based on grades up until the penultimate term, but now I would have to include results from my final term, which included my inadequate thesis performance as well as other grades that fell somewhat after the accident. Plus, my plans had been delayed by at least a year and, in the state of despair into which I was falling, I was distorting reality severely and felt as though that one-year delay would cause me to be an old man by the time I finally became a psychologist—assuming I could even get into grad school in the first place!

In short, I really did not see any hope for my future at that point. As alluded to earlier, this is when I went into a depression for about a week or so. I was not used to failing and now I was facing a number of the biggest failures someone in my position could confront, all at the same time.

I ended up going to therapy, but for dubious reasons (I won’t get into that). In the end, however, I experienced a moment of significant self-reflection and insight in spite of my psychologist—or, more accurately, to spite that psychologist. In short, the entire experience really humbled me and greatly changed my perspective on myself and my life.

I picked myself up, took complete responsibility for a number of problems I had experienced—including those for which I had mistakenly believed I had already taken full ownership—and set about planning to get into grad school for the next year. I worked on improving myself in other areas of my life and, one year later, began graduate school on the same day my first daughter was born.

I should point out that my reputation at the U of T almost ruined my career aspirations, as I learned that, when prospective graduate supervisors/professors would contact my former professors, they would warn them about me. I found out that at least one professor who had never even taught me had similarly advised against taking me on as a grad student!

Fortunately, one of my former professors, with whom I had become quite close, really stuck up for me and convinced my supervisor at York to take me on. She took a chance with me and, I believe, I did not make her life too much more difficult than any other grad student.

Interestingly, after my Free Speech talk with Drs. Jordan Peterson and Gad Saad on November 11, 2017, I met my former supervisor for the first time in about 10 years. She was there as Dr. Peterson’s personal guest because they have been friends for many years; she also brought him onto my dissertation committee as an “external reviewer” as part of my graduation requirements.

In any event, when I began graduate school, my recent life-altering experience with profound self-reflection and self-improvement caused me to make a determined effort not to keep doing things as I had always done before. I was committed to being a “good boy” and not causing any shit. I joined a number of committees and got very involved with the department.

I really immersed myself in such things and contributed to some major changes in the department. And, as part of my devotion to becoming a better person, I focused many of my efforts on doing things that would help others and not myself. In addition to learning how things work in the department, I learned what most “do-gooders” learn: The vast majority of people are happy to sit back and let a tiny number of people do all of the hard work that ends up benefiting those who do nothing to help out.

I should add that one reason I first got involved in all of these things was that, by chance, I had been set up with a student who was as ambitious as I was. She was one or two years ahead of me and, as part of our orientation, she and others in her grade would each be paired up with one incoming student. At this point, she had been doing so much for the program as a student committee member that she had finally had enough. She asked if I wanted to take over one or two of her responsibilities and I took them all over, as well as several other positions.

If I had kept my mouth shut, my life would have been much easier and simpler. But it would have also been far more boring and I don’t do boring. Knowing me, I would have ended up filling my spare time with my typical trouble-making antics.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: In any event, I soon realized that York’s program was not very efficient: We were taking too many courses—some of which were literally irrelevant or useless—in lieu of clinical training and experience. The department asked how I knew that my complaints were valid. They challenged me to prove my assertions so I contacted the dozen or so Canadian Clinical Psychology programs at the time that were accredited by both the American Psychological Association and Canadian Psychological Association, as York was.

I had been on the committee that had recently got the APA accreditation for York so I knew about various requirements and expectations. After compiling all of the data on each of the aforementioned comparable graduate programs—which had so many variations in their course load, training, internships, research requirements, average duration, etc—I showed conclusively that we had too many courses and not enough training.

While I was at it, I also showed that one research paper requirement literally had no meaning or value for most students. Also, it had been designed in such a way that there was no consistency among students’ experiences: Some had supervisors who did not care about it and gave them an A for doing virtually nothing, while others had to work their asses off doing something that did not benefit them at all.

I pushed and got the department to change that paper so that, in fact, most students would derive some benefit and would have to do approximately the same amount of work. In short, I got the department to implement parameters that would help the student turn this requirement into a brief paper that could get published and would thus help them get funding, get into future internships or post-doc positions and/or advance their eventual careers.

In the process, however, I really pissed off a number of professors who did not like that a student was pushing for all of these changes. I believe a few of the professors got their revenge by giving me lower grades than I deserved. They also decided to implement one of their new policies that they knew was my personal favourite—eliminating one of the courses we needed to take—literally the day my own useless course was finished; I know this was deliberate because of the interaction I had with the professor who told me about this change. Oh well, that’s what you get.

By the way, when I finally resigned all of my committee positions, I recruited a colleague to take over, just as my “buddy” had done with me a few years prior. However, I fully warned her about the problems she would face and she was still determined to do it. She knew how much I had been doing so she got two more students to split all of the duties I had been handling.

Sure enough, each of these three students found themselves having to deal with “passive-aggressive” and/or retaliatory B.S. from some of the professors and administrators with whom they were working on the various committees. Unfortunately, they did not have the kind of thick skin I have and I believe two of them ended up dropping out of the program (I know one did for sure and she told me that the BS I just mentioned was a huge factor). I think the third student gave up on her committees after a pretty short time.

One of the points of this digression was that, although York did end up adopting most of the changes I pushed—especially with respect to clinical training—they did so after it was too late for me to benefit from these changes. In other words, I received very little actual training from York with respect to psychotherapy and psychological assessments.

Jacobsen: Right.

Amitay: So, I had to get it from the outside. Some of it was through practical experience, such as the Employee Assistance Program, which is a program paid for by certain employers. It is like limited private insurance for mental health. (It was originally established to help employees dealing with addictions and then they broadened it.) That was my first “clinical” job. For a graduate student making $65/hr, not bad!

We are talking 20 years ago. I had a niche market as I was apparently the only one in Canada at the time who was doing therapy in Japanese, according to the EAP provider.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: These Japanese clients who came to Canada had a hard time adjusting. I was doing therapy with them through this EAP. I told this to my department at York when we were discussing what I was doing.

They said, “You can’t do that. You are only a first-year Master’s student. You are not a psychologist. You do not have malpractice insurance. If someone kills themselves, the company will throw you under the bus because you are a private contractor for them.” And the fact is that one of the people I had dealt with through this EAP had attempted suicide.

I could have lost everything. I had no idea. So, that was my first “clinical” experience. York stopped me after I had done this for about a year. They did it for my own benefit and said that they would never allow another student to do that by tightening the rules.

In fact, there have been a number of times in undergraduate and graduate school where they have changed some policies because of something I had done and the outcome was not necessarily great. But how do you know if you don’t do it?

But the point is that I ended up getting most of my training outside of the university through practica, internships and other opportunities I sought out for myself. One exception to this was Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) with Dr. Les Greenberg, who came up with this very powerful therapy with Drs. Rice and Elliott, and he taught it in one of the courses at York. He also ran workshops where he was training therapists on how to do EFT; I volunteered to facilitate several such workshops with him and learned more about EFT this way.

I was constantly looking for any opportunity for more training and more experience. Then, the most important experience for me, which ended up changing my whole life, occurred when I did one of my internships at a hospital. A friend of mine, one of my lab mates at York, had done this internship previously and suggested that I apply to do it as well.

I was accepted and began working and training with my supervisor, Dr. Szabo, at the hospital. However, Dr. Amin, the head of the psychology department (and also Dr. Szabo’s former mentor), liked what he saw of me and ended up “poaching” me. I ended up doing a lot of side work for Dr. Amin,  who got me into doing Parenting Capacity Assessments (PCAs) for the Courts and many different Child Protection Services across Ontario. I had never planned to do this kind of work, as my goal was simply to do psychotherapy.

At the time, Dr. Amin was probably doing the most PCAs in Canada and had been doing them for many, many years. I assisted him in doing many of these types of assessments and got so much extensive training in assessments. Dr. Amin ended up becoming my supervisor and mentor for subsequent internships for York and then for my registration with our College of Psychologists of Ontario not only for assessments but also for psychotherapy. Dr. Szabo was also my secondary supervisor during this training.

When I got my full registration, I ended up doing PCAs on my own. I basically called all of these Children’s Aid organizations—with Dr. Amin’s blessings—and said, “Just so you know, you can contact me directly now if you would like me to complete any PCAs for you.” From what I have heard from those in the know, I ended up doing the most PCAs in Canada per year and may still be doing more than any individual psychologist.

I am so grateful because virtually anyone can be a therapist. Although I have many patients, with the way things are going in Canada with respect to psychologists and psychotherapists, I believe many psychologists who do only psychotherapy are going to see a significant decrease in their business in the near future. That is, even though psychotherapists have far less education, training, knowledge and expertise than psychologists, they have recently been gaining far more rights, abilities and standing by our government.

If I did only therapy, I would be just one therapist in a giant pool. But conducting Parenting Capacity Assessments—and now Custody and Access Assessments—I am part of a tiny select/specialized group of psychologists doing such niche work.

One reason very few people do these types of assessments is that it is kind of like forensic work and often requires us to give expert testimony in Court; this intimidates many psychologists. What intimidates and deters psychologists even more is that PCAs and especially Custody and Access Assessments draw the most false complaints to our College. I won’t get into that nightmare other than to say that defending oneself against such false allegations can be a very anxiety-provoking and/or extremely time-consuming process. I have been through a number of such false complaints and they really can take their toll; I will leave it at that.

Another reason people do not like doing PCAs can be elucidated in the following story that I tell my students. When Dr. Amin first hired me to help him conduct PCAs, he wanted to ease me into the process because he knew how terrible some of the cases could be; we have both had some truly horrific cases and have seen the worst that humans are capable of doing. We also each have children, so these things can potentially strike home.

Knowing all this, Dr. Amin decided to make my very first case relatively easy—which rarely happens, since the Courts or child protection agencies don’t need to bring us in for “easy” cases. In any event, he happened to have received such a case and told me, “This is an easy one: It involves a grandmother who has agreed to take care of her granddaughter and Children’s Aid completely supports this plan.”

I thought, “Great!” I opened the case file and thought to myself, “Either Dr. Amin is one sick bastard if he thinks this is an “easy” case, or he has a really sick sense of humour.” I am saying this to you with a smile, but I have to follow it up with the most unfunny thing ever.

You see, the reason the grandmother was involved was that her daughter had allowed a boyfriend to beat the living shit out of her child. My mentor did not know the specifics of the case. He is definitely not an asshole; he is a very good, compassionate and generous man.

However, as soon as I opened the file, the first thing I saw was a color photograph of the child in the hospital – bruises up and down, near death. This was my very first case; what an introduction into the world of PCAs.

Since that first case, I have conducted over 450 PCAs. Sadly, there is a great demand for such assessments and, like I said, it is a niche market. It is a terrible field in which to work but I try to do some good.

In addition to PCAs and Custody and Access Assessments, I see about 15-25, sometimes 30, patients a week. I never have to advertise because my patients come through word of mouth and from seeing or hearing me in the media, as I give about 4 or 5 interviews per week. It started off as a few here or there about 14 years ago, then eventually increased to about one per week and I kept getting more and more interview requests on literally any topic you can imagine.

Although some might consider me lucky for the way things have turned out for me, nothing has ever just fallen into my lap. Rather, whenever I see an opportunity, I go for it and do my very best to prove that I am the right person for the job, whatever it is. Nobody has ever simply given me anything or done me any favours just for the sake of being nice to me.

As another example, when I first decided to try teaching at Ryerson 16 years ago, the day I called to inquire into how I should go about applying for any positions that might be available, I was told that there were no positions available in the Psychology department at the time and there would not likely be any in the foreseeable future. However, I was told to try the Continuing Education department. I called them up and found out that that very day was the last day to apply for teaching positions that term. I can’t remember what I was doing that day but I pushed everything aside, found out what courses were being advertised, got my crap together and put together a CV and application package over the next few hours. I rushed down to the university, delivered my last-minute application package right before they closed and, weeks later, was told that I would be teaching Introduction to Psychology.

Over the next eight years, I would always teach at Ryerson and one other university in Toronto or just outside the city. This caused me to teach four to six courses four terms/times each year—once I taught seven courses and twice I taught eight! I am pretty sure that was a record. Plus, I was still seeing many patients each week and conducting numerous assessments.

I thought, “I am going to have a story to talk about one day. If I can make it through this term…”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: “…I will have a story to tell.” It is not comparing myself to other people. It is comparing myself to what I had done before. It is having a healthy mindset. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I always ask myself, “Okay, how am I going to make this happen?”

One of the times I taught eight classes was when I was working 100 hours per week. I was teaching 9am-12pm at Ryerson; 12-6pm at U of T Scarborough, which was about a 20-30 minute drive; and finally 6-9pm back at Ryerson. Those numbers obviously don’t add up [Laughing]. However, I worked things out with my schedule to make all of that happen without my students losing any class time or quality of teaching.

Those are the kinds of challenges I live for. I love knowing that I am able to do such things and do them well. This is the way I see life: challenges. Otherwise, you stagnate and get bored. You atrophy.

However, in 2011 I decided it was too hectic to try to balance working at two different universities. I stopped teaching elsewhere and have continued to teach two courses every term at Ryerson, four times each year: I teach Psychology of Human Sexuality every term and Psychological Disorders (which is often called Abnormal Psychology) and Clinical Psychology in alternating terms.

And, because I am a workaholic, I end up filling up a lot of my “free time” with social media stuff. Making my podcasts and engaging with viewers on Youtube and Twitter could, in fact, be a fulltime career if I had any business or marketing acumen. But I do all of that simply because it is the right thing to do; I make absolutely no money off of it.

Returning to Ryerson, I do love teaching. I also appreciate that much of what I learn in order to teach can also inform my clinical practice, and vice versa.

I have had opportunities at different universities to work full-time and aim for a tenure-track position. However, doing that requires a lot of research, which means that you are not really teaching much. I have always enjoyed the teaching part and not so much the research part. And I really do not like having to “beg” for money via research grant proposals all of the time and having to prove my worth to a department by showing them that I know how to play the game properly. That is not my thing at all.

Teaching, however, is definitely my passion. And because I love it so much, my students see me at my absolute best. I am on fire in class. To be sure, there have been some days that I am sick or sleep deprived. I will stagger into class, coughing and barely able to speak at first. But once I get rolling, I get energy from the students and I can get right into the lesson with full vigour.

And it does not matter if I have taught something before. I always try to keep it fresh for both myself and for the students. They can see that. The funny thing is, I will sometimes stand there in the middle of class and literally pat myself on the back and say something like, “I have taught the same thing 60 times, and this is the first time I made that joke spontaneously about this material.” I do not plan those kinds of things. I want such comments or jokes to manifest at the moment. And I will always try to bring recent events to the lesson plan so that, even if I have taught it many times before, it will be different in important ways because new examples are always available.

Also, my students know that, no matter what I am teaching, from the very beginning I have always taught critical thinking. I have a number of ways I do this organically in the lecture that really drives home the need to be able to think sceptically and critically, and to keep an open mind to everything.

I also show students that they are able to hear and discuss extremely controversial and uncomfortable materials from a logical, rational, or fact/evidence-based perspective without letting their emotions overwhelm them. In my Human Sexuality class, within the first 20-30 minutes of the very first lecture of the term, I have discussed rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, feminism, gender wage myths, real and false allegations of sexual assault or incest, masturbation, sexual orientation and more. And you know what I never include? “Trigger Warnings.”

I do have to be careful because I have no tenure and no job security. I am merely a sessional lecturer on contract. So, I still have to apply to teach three times per year, although I always get the courses I want because I have so much seniority. But I still have to apply.

I have forgotten to apply three times over the past 17 years because sometimes I am so busy with deadlines for Court reports or some other work-related duties, and the application period occurs near the end of the term, when I am trying to wrap everything up and get all of my grades in. Fortunately, my immediate superior is a good person and, each time I forgot to apply he gave me two other courses to teach. Although these are usually courses I have taught previously, once I was offered the chance to teach Positive Psychology and once it was an Addictions course.

Teaching a new course can be very demanding because you have to create the syllabus, lecture materials, powerpoints and exams from scratch. And, as a sessional instructor, I do not get paid for this prep time, only the actual class time. So, for each of these two new courses, I knew I was going to invest so much time and effort into something that I would most likely never teach again, since I always teach the three courses I mentioned (each instructor usually gets to teach only two courses per term).

Fortunately, I ended up teaching Positive Psychology two more times, so I was able to use the materials again, with some tweaking/modifications. Moreover, when I was preparing for the course, I learned about another psychological orientation/therapy—Acceptance and Commitment to Change Therapy (ACT)—which I pursued and incorporated it into my clinical practice as my eighth one.

As for the Addictions course, although I never taught it again, it did provide me with a lot of information that I have been able to use in my practice. It gives me another area of knowledge that is very relevant to my work with many patients.

In other words, instead of complaining about all of the work I had to do for each course, I looked at the positive aspects of my decisions. This is the kind of healthy mindset that enables me to take on new challenges: I look for ways in which doing these things will benefit me instead of worrying about the potential negatives. However, I do engage in a mental calculation to make sure that the potential benefits will outweigh the costs, otherwise I am prone to making bad decisions for the wrong reasons.


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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant.

[2] Individual Publication Date: February 22, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at

[3] B.Sc. (Honours), Psychology, Toronto; Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, York University.

[4] Image Credit: Dr. Oren Amitay.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One) [Online].February 2018; 16(A). Available from:

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, February 22). Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One)Retrieved from

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A, February. 2018. <>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (February 2018).

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A. Available from: <>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A.,

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):February. 2018. Web. <>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One) [Internet]. (2018, February; 16(A). Available from:

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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