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An Interview with Patrick Zierten, EMBA, MA (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/04/01


An interview with Patrick Zierten, EMBA, MA. He discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic familial background; Milwaukee to Canada and the influence on development; John Cleese, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Canadians being “deliciously sane”; influences and pivotal moments; a job; possibility of important individuals on the road of early life; Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development; origination of the interest in theology; the chosen theology; favourite book in the Bible; Saul Tarsus and Paul the Apostle; saints on his wall; and origination of the interest in counselling.

Keywords: counselling, John Cleese, Lawrence Kohlberg, Patrick Zierten, Paul the Apostle, Saul of Tarsus.

An Interview with Patrick Zierten, EMBA, MA: Program Coordinator, Edgewood Health Clinics; Ex-National Executive Director, Edgewood Health Clinics Network (Part One)[1],[2],[3],[4]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.*

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?

I was born in the United States and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I moved extensively throughout my life in the United States until 1986 when I was transferred up here to Canada. I have been here since then. I am probably more Canadian today than I am American. Americans have this misnomer that Canadians are the same as they are. When I moved up here, I realized that is not the case. Although, the differences are subtle. Yet, they are definitely more impactful. I came up here with the expectation that nothing would be different, but there were these subtle differences that threw me off guard for a while I assimilated to the culture here. I am American by birth and tradition, but I am Canadian by my homeland.

2. In Milwaukee, coming to Canada, and with that background in mind, it depends on the time of the move. Nonetheless, how did this influence development?

I think in the United States there is the idea that the independent person, independent rights, and making it happen is up to you. That definitely influenced me in my development, my career, and my family. It still influences me to some degree. This attitude got me to the point where I was in my career, but it wasn’t who I really was. When I got to Canada, Canada allowed me to be a little different and be more aware of the group, and conversation, and it’s not about getting the next best thing. Canada is a much kind and gentle place. And I think I am amply influenced by that today. Plus, I’m getting old. That influences my development too. I just don’t care about things like I used to.

3. John Cleese, from Monty Python and Fawlty Towers acclaim, made a statement about a love for Canada. He said Canadian’s are “deliciously sane” by comparison.[5]

Yea! Yea, I like that. But it drives Americans nuts. It confuses Americans when we need to have a conversation about something when it’s obvious what has to be done. In America, it is “this is what we have to do.” Canadians it’s “let’s talk about this for a while. Let’s give it a couple days. Let’s let it mull around, let’s see if we can make everyone happy in this deal.” Not Americans, it’s hell or high water.

4. What about influences and pivotal moments in major cross-sections of early life including kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, high school, and undergraduate studies (college/university)?

I’d say that there is a process that culminates in an event. My father being an alcoholic. He was a pretty violent guy. We lived in that crazy chaos. I was terrified of my father from age 6 to 9.

At 16, we had a conflict where I finally stood up to my father. And I said no more of this, and he kicked me out of the house. From that moment, I never relied on the family system to support myself. Matter of fact, I have lived on my own from 16 on. For me, that was a pivotal moment where I discovered I could stand for myself. It was definitely a statement that said that there was an internal spirit that could stand for Patrick. I no longer had to be a victim in this situation. Even though the path was terrifying, I basically said I am not going to comply in this situation and I am going to strike out on my own, and survive, that was huge. I managed to finish high school during that period time. I started a job and started to support myself while going to school.

5. What was the job?

I was working at a factory, just putting stuff together. I was surviving. I think I lived in an apartment that was $95 a month. And I managed to go to high school and finish.

There was another event. At about age 20, I didn’t go to university. I didn’t go to undergrad. But a bunch of buddies and I decided that we were going to go out and make our fortune. We all piled into a car and moved to Florida. Our dream was to build a mobile restaurant – a food truck. The things we typically see now on the streets. We thought we were way ahead of the curve on this one.

One day, we were all sitting around drinking beer. Beer was a part of my life at that time, and we were getting pretty well hammered. One guy said, “If we’re going to do this, you know, one of us ought to learn how to be a restauranteur.” And we said, “Oh, okay.” One of the guys’ wives was an employment agent and saw that there was a position for an assistant manager at Burger King. One of us said, “One of us should apply for that job.” We drew straws and I drew the short straw. I applied for the job, and got it. And I was with Burger King for almost 18 years working from an assistant manager to the area manager of Western Canada.

6. As with many trajectories in life, especially with these pivotal happenings with an alcoholic father, or events such as friends and you saying, ‘We’re going to make our fortune. How? We’re going to get a food truck.’ There are individuals along the way that seemingly can be a casual thing in the midst of it, but can leave an impact 5, 10, or 25 years later. Was there anyone like that?

There wasn’t anyone in my early life. There wasn’t a teacher, or a boy scout troop leader, or a coach in my life where I could draw that strength from. I don’t recall that. There were plenty of people in my career development. Many of my bosses acted as mentors.

Not only from a career perspective, but also from a life perspective. They were really helpful and beneficial in trying to steer my way or navigate a value system. I hadn’t really established a value system. That didn’t come until later in life. Two things determined my values. Number one, whatever got me what I wanted and, number two, who did I talk to last. I was kind of a chameleon in that sense.

There was no real Patrick. I was just trying to fit in. I think that was something I learned as a child in my alcoholic family. The way you survived as a child in an alcoholic family was being unnoticed. If I didn’t draw my father’s ire, there was no violence.


It was a survival mechanism worked for me.

7. One piece of psychological literature is Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.

I’m not familiar.

8. He builds them from 1-5, which are the most accepted, and then he has some speculative stages such as the sixth. Stage one, the focus is obedience and punishment. Stage two, the focus is self-interest. Stage three, good intentions as determined by societal consensus. Stage four, the focus is authority and social order. Stage five, the focus is the social contract. Stage six, the focus is universal ethical principles, or it deals with universal principles of ethical cognition. Another speculative stage, number seven, focuses on transcendental ethics associated with cosmic perspective. Sometimes found in traditional religious systems. At the same time, in the lower levels, what you find in early development, you seem to be indicating this about yourself, which could be a common pattern: “How can I get out of trouble?”

As I’m sitting here talking to you, when I think about it, my grandmother was very influential for me. And so was my Catholicism, I’m Irish. My father sent me to parochial schools all the time. For some reason, in Irish families, the eldest or the youngest ends up becoming a priest. I think at some level, my father wanted me to become a spiritual leader within the family. I don’t know. My grandmother was a right off the boat Irish. She had a beautiful, beautiful faith. She was my refuge. For many years of my life when my dad was out of control, I would go to my grandmother’s house. It was safe and loving. When I finally had to stand up for myself, I think that it was my grandmother, although she was dead at the time, was standing behind me.

My grandmother was a huge part of my life as an influencing factor early on.

9. Where did interest in theology originate for you?

Well, there you go! Back to grandma again!


I was raised Catholic, as I mentioned. And I went to parochial school all my life, but I hated being a Catholic. I never liked the idea of a punishing God, and fire and brimstone. It just didn’t make sense to me, but my grandmother had this undaunting faith around God and this lovely attitude. She had this concept of God that was totally different than the one I was getting in parochial school. And when I was able to leave the school, transcendental meditation was really big, and I went down that road.

I thought, “Oh hell, I will become of these saffron robe guys, and clang-clangers, at the air port and solicit alms.” I went from that to agnosticism because I just couldn’t figure God out. At some point, I probably evolved into atheism. If there was a God, it was me. I think it was heavily influenced by Western culture too. It’s up to me, not you.

But there was always this niggling inside that wasn’t being satisfied, I didn’t know what it was at the time. I think that’s a lot of the reason why I drank. To be honest with you, I think I was trying to manage that niggling, what the Greeks called the Daemon. It was something, and it wasn’t getting satisfied. I became alcoholic like my father, and I crashed and burned twenty years ago. I went to the 12-step program and there was this concept of a God of your understanding, I thought, “This is a novel idea. I never knew you could do that.” For forty years, I thought it was either-or. You either believe the Christian God or you do not believe. This was liberating that I could have a God of my understanding. So, I got really, really curious about that.

I believe, by the way, that my sobriety was a miracle. If not that, it was certainly a spiritual awakening. A spiritual event for me. One day, I couldn’t stop drinking. And then, through surrender of my ego, which is what I had to do, I suddenly stopped. I went into AA and cravings were gone. I couldn’t tolerate, couldn’t manage, and then it was gone. I attribute that to God. I can’t prove that, but I like the way it feels. I like the way it feels.


10. How long was this period of drinking and having the cravings?

Oh, I think my first drink was at 15, and I got absolutely annihilated and woke up in my mother’s purple stretch pants and bra in a pool of vomit. I should have known something was askew at that point. But what I resolved at that point was to learn how to drink appropriately, and I drank – I loved drinking. It was the solution to all of this inner angst going on inside my gut. Plus, I had this genetic predisposition. No doubt about it. Drinking was relatively easy.

For years, it would have been considered heavy social drinking, and from the outside you would not have recognized I was an alcoholic. It was not until 35 when I started to have negative consequences. I began a more serious effort in trying to stop or control my drinking. I used a multitude of tactics to try and do that. Some worked for a period of time. Most did not.

It got worse and worse until finally it destroyed my family, and I literally ended up abandoning my family to chase in my addiction. In my job, I somehow was still able to function. Work had become so much rote that I performed regardless of what condition I was in. Around 40, that’s when the floor really fell out. I was kind of functioning at 40. I lost family. I lost the job. And suddenly, I’m living on EI, and I cannot stop drinking. I just can’t stop drinking. I’m drinking probably anywhere between 26 ounces of vodka to 40 ounces of vodka a day.

But two years prior to that, it wasn’t anything like that. It added up over time. And then, a fellow that was a co-worker of mine found out that I was struggling, and he appeared at my doorstep out of the clear blue, and said, “Hey, you don’t have to do this anymore. You don’t have to do this anymore.” I thought, “What do you mean? There’s a way out?” I really didn’t think there was a way out. I know it sounds baffling, but I didn’t think there was a way to stop. Every time I would make these solemn promises, “I’m not going to use. I’m not going to use. I’m not going to use.” Within a couple hours, I’m using. Anyway, this guy says, “You don’t have to do this.” I ended up in the detox centre the next day, and that began my journey in recovery.

And then, literally, in that surrender, when I finally said, “Okay, I guess I am like my dad. I guess I am an alcoholic,” which was something I did not want to admit to. I can no longer control this. Something in that surrender released me. That is something that you’ll see in spiritual transformation – all through the history of man, where this process of surrendering. The old ‘you got to die to self in order to be reborn’. I think in that moment I died to self.

I dismissed my ego that I had been building for the last 40 years, and said, “I can’t do this. I need God’s help.” In this particular case, that’s how I ventured forward. What I needed was other people’s help, and I surrendered to other people’s help, I needed to get rid of that rugged individualism from earlier. In that moment, I was empowered. That’s all I can say about it. And that’s it.

11. And the theology that you chose.

So then, I get into recovery. I attempted to go back to my old business role. I tried to do what I had been doing for the last 20 years, which I was pretty good at. But I had this emptiness. Now that I’m not drinking I couldn’t fill that emptiness. I couldn’t figure out this God thing. If I was dismissing everything that I had learned in the past, or reframing or relearning everything in the past, which is what I was doing, then I better go out and seek advice or more information on this.

So, I went back out to apply for a Masters. I went to UBC. And the theological school accepted me!


I went to a Protestant, Evangelical seminary, and I am a Catholic, and an alcoholic in recovery. So, I was a little bit of an oddball. What I discovered is that I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I love the Bible. I love the spirit of the Bible. I am not a literalist by any fashion and I think the Jesus story is a myth, but that doesn’t make it not true. Because I think there is a great deal of truth to the Jesus myth.

12. What is your favorite book out of the Bible, as a sub-question?

James, probably. Or any of the letters from Paul, I just love Paul. I think Paul was an addict, to be honest with you. He talks about the thorn in his side and wanting to do the things I don’t want to do. So I think Paul was a recovering addict.

13. To your point, that you quite eloquently put, I mean he was Saul of Tarsus. He was persecuting Christians. And then he was escaping out of a town in a basket. Then he has the transition, that transformation, and becomes Paul the Apostle. So, I think there’s something to that.

Yea! I don’t know if you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell, but he talks about the mythical story. The story where the hero has to die in order to be risen. It is the human condition. It is human nature. Yes, you’re right. There are all kinds of these dying and being reborn stories in the context of the Bible. Of course, the Jesus myth is the one that gets the most publicity. Anyway, I go to university and I study The Bible. Another thing that is really interesting that as a Catholic, you do not read the Bible. Catholics are told what the Bible is supposed to be. So, it’s the priest who tells you what the Bible means.

The Protestants have to read the Bible and figure it out for yourself. I like that. That they gave me permission to think about it. At the end of the day, I realized that nobody’s got this God thing figured out. There are 25,000 Christian denominations, and all of their theologies are different to some degree. So, it just gave me a whole lot of freedom when it came to the God of my understanding.

And so, that’s where I stand today, and I still do not deny my Catholic tradition. I love studying the saints. I love the spiritual processes some of the saints went through.

14. Are those saints on the wall?


All of those represent – some were given to me. And some of those represent pilgrimages that I’ve made in the past. Some of them represent what I would consider spiritual places. There’s Medjugorje. I went to Gethsemane, where Thomas Merton had a hermitage. I went up and travelled to the Saint Patrick’s Hill. One day, I’m hoping to do the El Camino. That’s on my bucket list. So, for me, there’s also something about the pilgrimage.

I try to do a lot of pilgrimages and retreats. That’s my God of my understanding. Do I belong to a church? No, I belong to a small community of believers. That’s what I’d call home church. We have, maybe, 20 members. We get together quasi-formally. And I guess, if you want to think about the 12-step program, I am stilled involved in that. To me, it is a church too. That’s a community of believers.

15. What about counselling?

That came out of my rebirth. Suddenly, I no longer owned my life. Through my death to my self, and my resurrection, I am now, therefore, responsible. I am now accountable for this transformation. How do I return what has been graciously given to me? That’s where I thought, “Where can I best fit in?” If you look at the narrative of my life, it says, “You’ve got to be a counsellor.” It’s my vocation. It is what God wanted me to do. It’s God saying, “This is what you need to do for the rest of your life.” I am very passionate about it.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Program Coordinator, Edgewood Health Clinics; Ex-National Executive Director, Edgewood Health Clinics Network.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 1, 2017 at; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017 at

[3] MA (1997-2002), Theology, The University of British Columbia; EMBA (1990-1991), Queen’s University.

[4] Photograph courtesy of Patrick Zierten, EMBA, MA.

[5] John Cleese explains why he loves Canada (2013) states:

People are always surprised if I say that I’m basically, I’m introverted. Basically, you put me in room, on my own, with three or four books, I’m happy for a week. You know? Whereas extroverts need lots of stimulus, they need music playing and activity, and all this kind of thing. I’m not like that at all. And I think America has become such an extroverted culture. That you feel a little bit pale in comparison. I want to say, “No, no, no, you’re the normal ones” You see what I mean? And when Obama was talking the other day in the speech about Syria or about American Exceptionalism, I’d heard about this before. It’s not a particularly healthy thing for people to think that they’re exceptional, whether it’s individually or as groups. When you come to the countries who do think that they’re exceptional, they often seem to have had a very troubled history. Because they find it difficult just get on quietly with people. And what I like about Canadians, I’ve never heard a Canadian who thought that anything about Canada was exceptional. And I think that’s why you’re deliciously sane. And I feel happy, relaxed, and comfortable here.

The Globe and Mail. (2013, September 24). John Cleese explains why he loves Canada. Retrieved from


Edgewood Health Network Inc. (2016). Edgewood Health Network Inc. Retrieved from

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LinkedIn. (2016). patrick zierten. Retrieved from

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Mirus Rehabilitation Care Centre. (2016). Meet the North York Team. Retrieved from

The Bible: New International Version. (2017). Matthew 7:12. Retrieved from

The Globe and Mail. (2013, September 24). John Cleese explains why he loves Canada. Retrieved from

The Rave. (2005, November 11). CN BC: Community Discussion Focuses On Drug-Use Prevention. Retrieved from

Zierten, P. (2012). EDGEWOOD Alumni INSITE in Vancouver. Retrieved from

Zierten, P. (2011, September 1). Motivated to Change but Not Ready for Residential Inpatient. Retrieved from


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