Dr. J. Lauren Johnson

Top 40 Under 40 2016

Photography Curtis Comeau

Age: 34

Job Title: Psychologist, Therapeutic Filmmaking Institute andCross Cancer Institute

Why She’s Top 40: She uses her creativity to help others heal, while focusing on the mental well-being of vulnerable populations.

Aspiration: “I’d like to call for changes to make psychology more inclusive of worldviews that haven’t historically been represented.”

Lauren Johnson is proficient in two vocations – filmmaking and psychology – and has found a way to use both in her practice.  As an undergrad with a double major in film and video production and psychology, she initially thought she’d have to choose between her passions.  And when she learned she was pregnant, she believed she might have to make another choice – this time between her career and motherhood. 

Johnson instead turned the camera on herself, and created a short film about her own unplanned pregnancy; it focused on hope, while most of the literature she had read focused on risk. Not only did it solidify her knowledge that therapeutic filmmaking could make a huge impact, the project – which included two other films by women with unplanned pregnancies – garnered a Canadian Psychological Association Best Dissertation Award. As part of the project, Johnson developed a guide for professionals to work with women who have unplanned pregnancies from a hope-focused perspective.

“Part of what’s therapeutic is just telling the story and having it witnessed. There’s an externalizing factor where the story is outside of yourself and you can work with it tangibly,” says Johnson.

Johnson began her career by working with First Nations clients in northern communities. That work shaped her private practice, where she’s conducted contract research for the provincial government on the representation of aboriginal women in print media, along with developing research with the aim of improving mental health outcomes for Indigenous people.

And while therapeutic filmmaking is done internationally, no one in Canada researches, writes about it – she co-write a book on the topic last year – and incorporates it into her practice like Johnson.

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