Sitting at the white and gold desk in her home office, Denise Marie types on her laptop, scheduling content for the week. A Facebook post here, a reel on Instagram there, a counselling session at noon and organizing transport logistics on the weekend – it’s all scheduled at the beginning of the week. It has to be. Marie spends most of her days building her newly-opened counselling business. Every day of work – even on the weekend – is an important opportunity to reach more women in hopes of providing them guidance.
Scheduling social media posts is one of the things that sets the Georgetown, Ont. counsellor apart from others in her field. For Marie, 41, social media is a large part of her job and how she reaches and works with her clients. It’s not the typical way of doing things for someone in her profession, but for Marie, it’s a vital opportunity she doesn’t want to miss.
In high school, Marie made strict plans for herself – or rather, expectations she adapted from others. Her plan was to graduate, go to university, get a corporate job, get married and have babies.
With no real direction and the pressure to pick a major, she attended the University of Guelph to study psychology. Marie completed three years before making the hard decision not to continue for her final year of school. She felt like she was only getting theoretical skills rather than the real-life skills she had hoped for.
“I was convinced that after school I wanted a corporate job with the cubicle,” says Marie. “And I thought: ‘Psychology really isn’t going to help me here. I need to go to business school.’”
That following September, she started an advanced diploma in business administration at Mohawk College. After completing that, she returned for a one-year certificate in eCommerce and graduated with honours for the second time. Marie says Mohawk gave her a good sense of the business world and provided her with the hands-on skills she wanted. Working at her family furniture store for several years during and after school gave her the opportunity to apply these skills and build confidence.
Soon, she met the man of her dreams and after a short whirlwind romance and engagement, she left her hometown in Brantford, to move to Mississauga. Marie got a job doing what she knew best – furniture – and started working at Leon’s. After one year of being together, she and her fiancé married in 2005 and life felt perfect.
“Funnily enough, at 25, you think you know everything, and you think you have all the answers,” says Maries. “Really, in hindsight – I knew nothing at all, but I was expected to have my shit together by family and peers.”
Two years at Leon’s lead her to the corporate job she had sought for so long and she started working at Whirlpool in customer service.
In her first week of training, she discovered that the man of her dreams had been cheating on her from the very beginning and they divorced. Life as she knew it fell apart and she soon started to realize that this life was not what it seemed. She was forced to confront her insecurities and acknowledge that she didn’t have the answers to everything, let alone how to fix her own life, but she carried on.
Four years at Whirlpool passed and she found herself growing frustrated with corporate life.
“That was a time when you still needed a degree to move up the ladder and at that point, I was stuck going side to side,” says Marie. “I had more than enough experience and I was being denied opportunities. I guess that’s when I started to get frustrated, and something had to give.”
Focused on her career and learning to find herself again, she stumbled into something she wasn’t expecting – a new relationship. Enter Stephane Marie, her now-partner of 10 years, fiancé, biggest support and equal. He encouraged her to follow a new passion and to take the leap into returning to school for something entirely out of her comfort zone – makeup and aesthetics.
“She told me about wanting to help women feel good about themselves,” says Stephane. “I knew she wasn’t happy, so I encouraged her to go for it.”
Marie excelled and completed a program at the Canadian Beauty College and shortly after, Stephane received a new job opportunity in New Brunswick and the two moved. There, she began a new aesthetician course to further extend her education.
When the two returned from their year in New Brunswick, Marie found herself working at a laser hair removal clinic and was miserable. The environment was toxic. Her career and the opportunity to finally connect with women felt unattainable and farther away than it ever had and so she put it on hold.
Marie went back to her safety net in business and started a new role as a transport logistics coordinator. As a reliable part of the team, she accepted the role of a manager after a few years, but she found herself unsatisfied. She soon started to worry that it wasn’t just the jobs that were making her feel incomplete and she began doing something she had never done before. She acknowledged she had been ignoring her feelings and past traumas, she even noted that they had a larger impact than she was willing to admit.
“We had a conversation one night and I suggested it was time to maybe seek out a counsellor,” says her best friend Chase Heys. “She couldn’t even leave or do anything on Sundays because she needed a day to emotionally prepare for the week of anxiety.”
Marie knew something had to change and took the next step by scrolling through Psychology Today where she found her future counsellor, Alecia Smith, and called to book her first appointment. She notes that during her first meeting, Smith told her that she would make a great counsellor, but Marie laughed it off. She says she felt too damaged and she had too much trauma to work through. She also didn’t know how school would be an option now that she was a homeowner, so she quickly shelved the idea.
A year of regular counselling led to Marie diving into deep self-care. She began daily meditation, with essential oils and crystals, followed by yoga and journaling. At 36, she was finally taking the time to be with herself and acknowledge her feelings.
“I think her self-care and counselling helped her be more accountable for her feelings and it gave her the opportunity to be there for herself,” says Heys. “You could see the difference it made even in a couple of years.”
Marie says during a meditation session, she finished off her journal entry with the words, “I want to be a counsellor.” Funnily enough, it happens to be the last entry.
She found the social service worker diploma program at Sheridan College and fast-tracked her way through. Marie graduated not only at the top of her class, but the top of her program and got glowing recommendations from her professors. It wasn’t an easy road to get there, though.
“Before she could go back to school, we had to figure out how we could financially plan this,” says Stephane. “We have a mortgage, car payments and other bills now.”
Marie stepped down from her manager position and took on a role as a weekend coordinator. She went to school Monday to Friday and worked Saturday and Sunday – her time off was always dedicated to homework.
After graduation, she began working on her business plan and realized things had changed since she was 22 and that social media was something worth exploring. She attended an online course that helped her rework her plan, create packages, provide direct counselling and connect with others. It helped her determine her niche within the practice – instead of counselling everyone and anyone, why not focus on a specific group of people? And she did. Marie now provides counselling services to women 35 and up, though she looks forward to working with younger women as well.
In March 2021, Marie officially launched her own practice, Align and Balance Counselling. She has two sides to her business, the counselling and the online media presence, but they go hand in hand. Despite never expecting to be 41 and making online content, she says she does it for those who need a free resource. She’s done so much learning in her life and wants to give back.
“It’s funny because despite all the confusion, everything I’ve studied has come together into one,” says Marie. “In hindsight, psychology was on the right track, business too! Even though I don’t do makeup anymore, that makes sense in the grand scheme as well. I know that my passion is helping to heal women from the inside. This is where I was trying to get to all along, I just didn’t know it yet.”