Dr. Barbara Harris of Vancouver is the 2016 Courage To Come Back Award recipient in the Mental Health category


Photo credit: Nick Procaylo/PNG
Photo credit: Nick Procaylo/PNG

Her father, a residential school survivor, left her home months before Barbara was born. Also, at just under two years old, her sister died in a tragic accident, and she was separated from her family for a few months, until her mother was able to care for her and her brother again. During her early school years she was bullied, and she was also threatened and sexually abused for 4 years. At age 13, she ran away from home, to Vancouver, where she just tried to survive. Two years later she was lured to the United States where the attempt was made to force her into the sex trade, although she managed to get a job as a stripper. She was beaten daily except when she got paid, but after about five weeks, another stripper helped her to escape, and she returned to Vancouver.

Back in Vancouver and completely traumatized, she became deeply depressed and suicidal, and got into heroin which provided relief from the PTSD. After a year, she found herself on the floor of a condemned house, praying to die. But she lived, quitting cold turkey, though continuing to dull her trauma with alcohol, working in the entertainment business until age 28.

Back pain ended her career as a dancer; and things went down hill again; now she got into cocaine. “Again, I wanted to die,” she remembers; “I just didn’t have the nerve to kill myself.” Instead, she attended her first 12-step meeting in January, 1986. Within a week, no more liquor or drugs: she’s been clean and sober ever since.

She battled serious mental illness for the first 10 years of her sobriety but she refused to take medications. After nine years sober and with only grade 8 education, she finally mustered up the courage to return to school, first to Langara College, where she made the Dean’s List, then to UBC for Bachelor and Master’s degrees in Social Work, graduating in 2000. She also became a member of the Golden Key National Honour Society for academic excellence at UBC.

After graduating with her MSW, She began doing trauma therapy at an agency in the DTES and also began working in academia, as a lecturer and program developer/coordinator. In 2009, she obtained her PhD. from SFU, and at that time, opened a full-time private practice. Her Counseling practice focuses on trauma recovery and residential school survivors and their families.

She has published scores of academic articles, presented her research at numerous academic conferences, has held over 20 volunteer positions in a self help program, has served on the board of Vancouver Recovery Club, and was recently elected to the board of EMDR Canada.

On a personal note, she met her biological father for the first time in 1996 and cared for him until he died in 2000.

Barbara Harris will receive her award at The Courage To Come Back Awards gala dinner on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West. Tickets and information at couragetocomeback.ca

Global News

Randene Neill interviews Dr. Barbara Harris – click to view on Global News website>

The Province newspaper

Susan Lazaruk editorial about Dr. Barbara Harris – click to read on The Province website>


John Ackerman interviews Dr. Barbara Harris – click to view on News1130 website>