Shalem’s counselling clinic has undergone a series of rapid changes to be able to continue to provide psychotherapy in the context of pandemic-related physical distancing.
In response to the evolving directions from Public Health officials, we started with increased cleaning measures and changed office procedures, but quickly moved to closing the office to the public when that became necessary. Because mental health services are considered essential services, we are able to continue the work, although in new ways.
The clinical team began meeting with clients by phone instead, and quickly expanded to offering therapy over video conferencing. Some of the therapists continue to go into the Hamilton office to host their virtual or phone sessions, however others on the team were able to set up confidential offices at home to reduce the number of people crossing paths at the office.
Initially some clients cancelled or postponed their sessions, hoping to reschedule when we could resume meeting in person, however, it became evident all too soon that a quick re-opening of the clinic would not be happening.
Clients began to courageously try out the various platforms, experimenting with phone or video calls, and occasionally email exchanges, to continue their therapy process.
Jennifer Bowen, Clinical Director, and Danielle VandenAkker, Managing Director, spent hours researching various video conferencing platforms to ensure they would meet provincial requirements and ethical standards for privacy and encryption to ensure confidentiality is maintained. They also looked at what platforms provide the best quality audio and video to ensure the least disrupted connections.
After trying out several platforms, they settled on Zoom for Telehealth, a newly established Zoom platform that meets all the Canadian and Ontario standards, and corrects the issues that were plaguing the original Zoom services.
Therapists in the clinic also were given training opportunities to ensure they are educated and competent in offering telehealth, including how to provide Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy by video conferencing.
Of course, the pandemic has also affected the finances of many of our clients, with some losing their jobs or having reduced hours. The clinic has been able to respond to those who need to have their fees adjusted on the sliding scale, including offering subsidies through the Counselling Assistance Fund, available as a result of donations from Shalem’s supporters and a grant from the Hamilton Community Foundation.
While the transition has not been without challenges, it seems that a new normal has developed in which great clinical work continues to happen. While we are looking forward to a time when we will be able to resume in-person therapy sessions, we are pleased to be discovering how essential and effective therapy sessions can continue, even in a pandemic.
Susan Winter Fledderus is a Clinical Therapist with Shalem Mental Health Network