Kitchener native takes his knowledge of therapy from the doctor’s office to television
Peter Farvolden, left, is a consultant for the CBC television show Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays. Actor Matt Watts plays Michael.
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​by Andrea Hall
Kitchener Citizen​
November 10, 2011​

This summer, Dr. Peter Farvolden took on a surprising new patient.

Farvolden, a Toronto-based therapist who grew up in Kitchener, was hired by the new CBC show Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays.

The show is the story of the lovable Michael Dyer, who suffers from anxiety, and fears everything from vomiting to small talk. Twice a week for 15 years he’s seen Dr. Storper, a cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) who helps Michael conquer his fears one by one.

​To make the show as realistic as possible, producers recruited Farvolden, a real-life CBT, to act as a consultant and technical advisor.

Farvolden attended both Forest Heights and Kitchener Collegiate. With the intention of getting into law, he pursued a philosophy degree at University of Waterloo. He followed that up with a degree in science, before landing a job at Lutherwood in Waterloo.

“I thought I was on my way to med school,” said Farvolden, but, influenced by his work at Lutherwood he decided to change course.

“In my mind the medications were not what was helping these kids and adolescents. It was the psychotherapy they were getting.”

So Farvolden went back to UW for clinical psychology. After graduating he held a number of positions, including working in the anxiety clinic at McMaster University Hospital, and a research scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In 2008, he opened his own private CBT practice.

CBT involves confronting your fears in a gradual way. On the show, Michael is taken on exposures. In the pilot episode, Dr. Storper takes him to a mall to deal with small talk, and has him ask people for the time.

“Behaviour reinforces anxiety, so the more I avoid the more anxious I am,” said Farvolden. “If you expose yourself to what you’re afraid of then the fear gradually diminishes.”

Farvolden said he appreciates how Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays represents this kind of therapy.

“The patient’s the hero, which is as it should be,” he said.
Michael is committed to the process. The audience watches him struggle through Dr. Storper’s exposures. Sometimes he fails – vomiting is particularly difficult for him to get through – but he’s always willing to keep trying because he wants to get better.

“Because he has that kind of attitude, it works for him,” said Farvolden. “It works for him in spite of the fact that his therapist’s imperfect and his therapy’s imperfect. But the basic techniques work.”

While the makers of the show reached out to Farvolden for guidance, Michael himself had his own contributions to make.

Matt Watts, who stars as Michael, also inspired his character. The show is actually billed as being based on Watts’ neuroses.

“It was funny sort of consulting with Peter because on the one hand I could say easily well I’m afraid of this and this happened to me,” said Watts. “And then Peter would sort of confirm that.”

Other characteristics, such as Michael’s germaphobic nature, were foreign to Watts.

​“That was something that I actually thought ‘well I don’t do that’ and then Peter said, ‘oh no that’s perfectly normal.’ So I had to get out of my own head in terms of my anxieties and kind of distance myself a little bit,” Watts explained.

The show also looked to Farvolden to verify the actions of Dr. Storper. In an effort for realism Watts said that they didn’t want to make Dr. Storper perfect – he has flaws as everyone does – but they did want him to be a good therapist.

“I have to take a certain amount of respect for the process because I’ve lived through it,” said Watts. “The last thing I would ever want doing a show like this is; a) to poke fun at people with anxiety disorders; or b) offend the community of therapists who I’ve put my life in their hands for so many years.”

So far it seems Watts has been successful – Farvolden at least is impressed.

“One of the things I like about the show a lot is that it cuts very close to the bone for psychotherapists because it’s very realistic,” he said, adding, “At the same time it has riffs on it there are just extremely funny.”

The show airs on CBC Tuesday nights at 9 pm. Previously aired episodes can be found online at www.cbc.ca.