Psychological and emotional problems can be crippling and psychotherapist Dawn Binkowski makes it her mission to set people free.

Binkowski, 47, is a licensed psychotherapist with Downtown Psychotherapy in Toronto where she helps clients understand their own psychological issues so they can learn to empower themselves to conquer their demons.

She says the most humbling part of her job is the trust people place in her when opening up about their intensely personal issues.

“I feel so privileged in the things people share with me. I’m so struck by the courage people have to share some of the most intimate details of their lives with me,” Binkowski said.

With a full roster of clients ranging from successful business people to drug addicts, Binkowski deals with an entire spectrum of psychological issues in her practice.

Psychological and emotional stress can cause a myriad of physical issues including panic attacks, anxiety, fear, depression, eating disorders as well as a host of health problems. Getting at the root of those issues takes time.

“Whenever there’s an imbalance in our lives, that creates conflict within us and there’s not generally a quick fix in a majority of circumstances,” Binkowski said.

Binkowski got her degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Toronto but spent the next 20 years as a court reporter. She studied psychotherapy with the Gestalt Institute in Toronto to pursue her dream of helping clients regain control over their psychological health and opened her practice in 2005. She counts many lawyers among her clients now as her experience and observations in the courtroom give her firsthand knowledge of the emotional stress they feel.

Starting her practice wasn’t easy at first, mostly because she had no mentor to guide her.

“In the beginning there was no marker, no checklist to see if I was doing a good job. Over time, I’d see the changes in my clients for the better and that motivated me,” she said.

Differing from psychiatry (in which a diagnosis is often provided and drugs may be prescribed) psychotherapy aims not to prescribe a course of action to clients but instead educate and empower them to self-realize the change they need in their own lives. It’s the difference between telling someone to do something versus teaching them to recognize what works for them.

“In therapy, telling someone, ‘You should...’ is counter-productive. The idea in therapy is to empower people to make decisions for themselves,” she said.

For Binkowski, the best part of the job is guiding clients to set themselves free.

“I help people affect change in their lives. It’s very satisfying to see my clients get unstuck,” Binkowski said. You can reach Binkowski online at dawnbinkowski.com.