While a patient lying on a couch baring their soul for a note-taking therapist may still be what we think of when we think of counselling, a program operating in our region takes the process online for youth, with some unique benefits.
“For a lot of young people, there’s a lot of fearfulness about opening up in-person,” said Julia Leggett, PCFSA Youth and Family Counsellor and YouthTalk E-counselling Coordinator. “What we see is young people share much more readily online than they do in-person. They’ll open up much faster about what’s going on.”
And now, thanks to funding from Green Shield Canada, the program has assured financial support for at least the next eight months, something which can at times be difficult to secure.
“Every time we get funding we’re able to get more counsellors to do more hours to form more relationships,” said Leggett. “It’s amazing to know that until June we’ll have a full roster of people working on this and we’ll be able to support as many youth as we need to.”
On the other end of an email sits a number of counsellors working for PCFSA, all of whom have ample experience working with youth. Also taking part are counselling masters students, who participate as a part of their practicum (all youth seeking services are informed when they are connecting with a student and have the right to refuse).
There are many benefits to an email-based counselling service. For one, there’s no wait list. Whereas there can be a three to five month wait to visit in-person with a mental health professional, any youth who reaches out via email will receive a response within three to five days. Counsellors can also take on a greater number of cases, because the time commitment is less than it would be for in-person counselling.
It’s also extremely low barrier, meaning youth don’t have to let anyone else know they are seeking help in this way. It’s open to anyone, and there is no need for a medical referral. This equates to more Indigenous youth reaching out, more people of colour, more youth from the LGBTQ+ community, and others.
Because of the ease of access and comfort of those seeking help, often what they’re reaching out for help with can be very serious. There’s a wide variety of reasons young people access the service, including depression, anxiety, gender and sexuality issues, problems at school, and more, but also suicide ideation, self-harm, sexual violence, and other concerns.
Some youth find the help they seek, or a referral, in three to four email exchanges, while others may stick with the service indefinitely.
Leggett points out that the program is not meant to be a replacement for in-person counselling, which comes with its own list of unique benefits. But she does see the email counselling as an effective gateway, or a worthwhile addition to, more traditional counselling.