Brenda Spitzer takes over as executive director of Catholic Family Services on Jan. 21, assuming the mantle from the recently retired Denis Costello, who stepped down as executive director just before Christmas. Photo courtesy of CFS

Spitzer plots steady course as new leader of Toronto's Catholic Family Services

  • January 22, 2019

Taking on a new role in life comes with its challenges, but Brenda Spitzer steps into Catholic Family Services of Toronto with the knowledge she will be following along a steady path laid down by her predecessors for almost a century. 

Spitzer takes over as executive director of Catholic Family Services on Jan. 21, assuming the mantle from the recently retired Denis Costello, who stepped down as executive director just before Christmas. Spitzer senses she is taking over at an agency that works smoothly and works well.

“Denis has really created a wonderful culture of collaboration,” said Spitzer, who has a long and varied career as a psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. “I sense very much that people feel supported to do their best work and to be innovative, and also an atmosphere of clinical excellence.”

Spitzer is winding down a private Toronto practice providing therapy for individuals, couples and families to take on the role. She has clinical expertise in several areas with a special interest in depression, anxiety, trauma, loss, life transitions and their impacts, and has more than 15 years experience working with couples, including time working with Catholic Community Services of York Region. She is also on the faculty at the University of Guelph, teaching in the graduate program in couple and family therapy, and is past president of the Ontario Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

It’s an impressive resume that caught the eye of the board of directors at CFS.

“We are confident that Brenda’s experience, knowledge and integrity will be a great asset for our agency, and she will continue to advance our mission in our local communities,” said Marlin Taylor, president of the agency’s board of directors.

Spitzer said she thinks her experience working on the frontlines, doing board and advocacy work and mentoring other therapists while also running her own practice, will help her lead Catholic Family Services.

“There is a lot of different ways to support clients and communities, so for me this is a great opportunity to bring all the different pieces into one place,” she said. “I’m looking forward to putting my focus at the agency and sinking my teeth into the work there.”

That said, Spitzer is not about to reinvent the wheel and drastically change how things are run. After all, the agency has been in existence since 1922 as a non-profit counselling agency and has delivered services to all in need, Catholic and non-Catholic. 

Most things “are working extremely well,” she said. Her aim is to keep Catholic Family Services — a member of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto — focused on its people doing their best work in serving the community.

“Part of being in a leadership position is managing a system where there’s a lot of different pieces that need to be co-ordinated, where you don’t want people working in silos, where you want to foster a culture of innovation without losing sight of the mandate and the values that anchor the work,” she said.

That work, she said, is of utmost importance in an age when people are feeling more disoriented. It could be the current political climate and the chaos south of the border, but Spitzer sees an agitation in people who are “not feeling grounded in things that are safe and important.” It’s where an agency like Catholic Family Services can be of service, she said.

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