Psychology professor wins CPA distinguished member award

York psychology Professor Emerita Shake Toukmanian of the Faculty of Health has been awarded the Canadian Psychological Association’s (CPA) 2009 Section on Women & Psychology (SWAP) Distinguished Member Award.

The award is presented annually to an individual who has made distinguished, long-standing and substantial contributions that pertain to women, gender or related issues in the areas of teaching, research and/or practice. Toukmanian, a professor in the Department of Psychology since 1971, is the third York professor to receive the honour since its inception in 1992.

“My focus has always been on the female gender in a clinical setting,” says Toukmanian, who was made an honorary fellow of the CPA in 2006. Her association with the CPA goes way back. She was a founding member of the CPA’s interest group on women (which then became SWAP), the coordinator of SWAP from 1981 to 1982 and a member of the SWAP executive committee from 1980 to 1983.

Right: Shake Toukmanian

Toukmanian has worked extensively with mothers and children, not only in North America, but in Armenia as well. It was as director and coordinator of projects in mental health of the Armenian Canadian Medical Association of Ontario from 1989 to 2007, that Toukmanian first went to Armenia as a volunteer to help deal with the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake. What concerned her most when she arrived was the lack of psychological services to meet the needs of the devastated population.

She continues to volunteer in Armenia on a regular basis and will be returning again soon to help develop the country’s mental health services, particularly for women. In her time there, she has opened dialogue in the community regarding depression and stress, as well as the importance of good mental health in mothers.

It is because of her work that she was recently asked by the minister of health in Armenia to spearhead a country wide training program for clinical psychologists and mental health workers. There are no programs in place for students in clinical psychology or other mental health fields to gain critical hands-on training in clinics or hospitals following graduation. “So that is the missing link,” says Toukmanian, who was director of clinical training for the Graduate Program in Clinical Psychology at York from 2000 to 2002. “So I will probably try to create a program. I don’t have anything to lose. I will do my best.”

Armenia is just now coming around to recognizing the importance of mental health, she says. So getting a training program up and running will be timely, but difficult.

In addition to her work in Armenia, Toukmanian has written, presented as well as delivered seminars and workshops on a variety of mental health issues, including “Understanding the Family Dynamics: Factors Affecting Children’s Emotional Development and Well-being”, “Psychological Factors in Illness and Health”, “Stress, Anxiety and Depression: A Perspective on Women”, “Autism: How to Diagnose, Treat and Cope with a Demanding Disorder”, “Diagnosis and Treatment of Children with Autism and Other Special Needs and their Families” and “A Systemic Approach to the Early Detection of Mental Health Risk Factors in Children and Families”.

Winner of a York Faculty of Graduate Studies Teaching Award in 1996-1997, Toukmanian is also co-editor, with York professor David Rennie, of the book Psychotherapy Process Research: Paradigmatic and Narrative Approaches (Sage Publications, 1992).

As for the SWAP Distinguished Member Award, Toukmanian says it means a great deal to her. “SWAP has always had a special meaning because it came from a professional group I’ve always identified with.” Toukmanian came to Canada as an immigrant some 50 years ago. “As a newcomer, this was the first group I really truly became involved with and felt comfortable with.”

Looking at past winners, Toukmanian says it is a list of truly remarkable women in their own right. “It makes it doubly meaningful.”

The award was presented in June at the CPA annual convention in Montreal. As the award winner, Toukmanian will give the keynote address at next year’s convention.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer