P.E.I. psychologist opens business with eye on equality

·3 min read

It was so important for psychologist Sarah Carr to have a better work-life balance for her and her two daughters, she left a secure, well-paid position as a psychologist in Alberta to open her own office in her hometown of Charlottetown.

Not only were her daughters, now aged nine and 10, excited to see their grandparents more often, it meant Carr could make a flexible schedule.

“It felt like everywhere I worked, we worked incredibly hard without much flexibility (and) feeling a lot of guilt when we did take some opportunities available to us,” said Carr.

“I’m a single mom, so my life – in order to have that work-life balance, in order to go to my kids’ concerts – I wanted to have a job with flexibility.”

Opening on P.E.I. in 2017, Carr started with a tiny suite of two rooms, one for her office manager and one to see her clients. Since then, the business has expanded twice and now has three full-time therapists, including Carr, and the office manager at work each day.

Counsellor Megan Muckler started with Carr as a student on practicum in May 2020. She graduated in January and has remained working full-time at the office.

“It’s really good to be in a psychologically healthy workplace, where mental health is very respected,” said Muckler. “It’s also – I’d say, unfortunately – unusual for the average workplace to have this much built-in – necessary – restorative time. So yes, obviously, it’s wonderful. I love it very much. (Carr) does definitely respect us taking time for ourselves.”

In Alberta, Carr was expected to see up to eight clients per day with no flexibility around working hours.

“Before I had children, I probably would have just stuck out that kind of job because that’s the kind of employee I am – I’d work hard. But with children, you’re often having to choose, it feels, between work and having a family. I wanted to create an environment where it would not be a choice, where you could do both.”

That’s why she planned her business model to allow her and her staff to see four to five clients a day.

“You’re carrying a lot of emotional weight for people; it’s very demanding work that way,” said Carr.

She is one of the fortunate women working in a career with wages set by a professional association. Even so, being a parent has cost her financially at work.

In one job, she was docked a day’s pay for staying home with her sick child. Even though she had paid sick days, she learned afterward that she wasn’t allowed to use them to care for her sick kids.

Women-dominant fields suffer the gender and care penalty, said Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of the Women’s Network P.E.I.

“Usually, they’re engaged in care work – which is devalued – and they’re usually a women-workforce, which is more devalued, and as a result, the work may be more draining, may be more difficult, but doesn’t have same wages as the other industries,” said Kilfoil.

Carr said she gets 25 women applying for work for every man.

“Psychologists used to be male-dominated; now it’s female, and our wages aren’t going up every year as they should,” said Carr.

“P.E.I. just reached where the rest of Canada was five years ago. … The other provinces are already higher.”

Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer