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Pandemic expedites new and much-needed online delivery of student counselling

By University Advancement and Communications Posted: May 8, 2020 8:00 a.m.

New online counselling services and educational webinars at the University of Regina support students’ mental wellbeing and provide assistance in dealing with trauma.
New online counselling services and educational webinars at the University of Regina support students’ mental wellbeing and provide assistance in dealing with trauma. Photo: stock

Students attending the University of Regina have a new way to access much-needed counselling services, support for their mental wellbeing, and assistance in dealing with trauma. Counselling Services and the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response office are working together to provide online counselling, webinars, and educational material related to mental wellbeing and trauma.

“It’s a natural fit to work together,” explained Lynn Thera, coordinator of the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response office at the University. “We take a very cooperative and collaborative approach to our work.”

On March 20, Counselling Services had to stop providing in-person counselling services to students as a result of COVID-19 social distancing requirements; soon after, counsellors began conducting sessions in live-stream format via Zoom.

“Our ability to provide quality, confidential counselling and support for our students studying here in Regina and at our satellite campuses within the province and beyond is our top priority,” said John Smith, Associate Vice-President, Student Affairs. “With the complexities the pandemic brings, the implementation of Zoom for Healthcare, which complies with Canadian privacy and health protocols, allows us to feel confident that we can meet the student demand for this much-needed service.”

“John Smith, Kevin Bolen [Director, Student Success] and Ryan Jesse [Manager, Information Services] were very supportive and made sure that all the platform requirements for live streaming were put in place,” said Dr. Jenny Keller, manager of Counselling Services at the University. “My clinicians at Counselling Services really embraced the technology and transition to online therapy so keenly and effortlessly. This has been a real team effort.”

Even before the current pandemic, counselling has been considered an essential service for students who are going through really stressful times.

05-081.jpg
Lynn Thera (Sexual Violence
Prevention and Response office)
and Jenny Keller (Counselling
Services) take a collaborative
approach to providing online
counselling services for students.
Photo: Jenny Keller, Counselling
Services

“My motto has always been ‘access’ – same-day access and response,” stressed Keller, who has been contemplating the use of a live-stream format to provide services for a while. “The e-counselling piece has been in the making for about two years. With COVID-19, the service got accelerated and expedited, coming to fruition literally overnight.”

To address student needs for mental health support and assistance with recovery from trauma, Keller and Thera are coordinating online programs, including group sessions for students who have experienced or are experiencing trauma, and webinars that provide facts on mental health and trauma. The webinars are aimed at people working or studying in the field, or administrators and managers who support employees or students suffering trauma. The webinars are open to everyone, and anyone curious about the topic can attend.  

In addition, Counselling Services has added several new services to their website, including self-help and treatment resources for students who are struggling with anxiety and mood problems.

Providing online counselling services is particularly important during COVID-19, which has required everyone to maintain social distancing, work from home, and stay at home as much as possible. This isolation requirement aggravates issues of trauma, abuse, and mental health problems, as those who are being abused and traumatized are now at home with their abuser 24/7.

“Fundamentally, COVID-19 is having a problematic effect on people who are already living with heightened crises in their lives,” said Thera. “In speaking with other professionals in the field, we know that there’s higher rates of intimate partner violence. So we’re seeing people that are experiencing violence and are stuck at home with their abusers.”

Counselling Services is seeing an increased concern from students who are feeling overwhelmed by and worried about the uncertainty of their education and employment now that their plans have been upended by the pandemic.

The ability to live-stream webinars and group sessions is important. People who are attending might express concerns about situations they are facing or request immediate follow up with a counsellor.

“A lot of the time, I find that when you’re talking with people during these sessions they have a lot of questions,” said Thera. “They may find a connection between what I’m saying and what they may be experiencing.”

In the past, Thera has spent a lot of time speaking about preventing violence and talking with students, staff, and faculty about the signs and cycles of intimate partner and sexual violence.

05-082.jpg
Ian MacAusland-Berg had
e-counselling up and running as of
March 23. Photo: Jenny Keller,
Counselling Services

“We often don’t identify what we’re experiencing as sexual or domestic violence, because we don’t have a vision of what it is,” explained Thera. “The information we provide gives them a basis for understanding their own experiences.”

Right now, many people enduring trauma and abuse are in survival mode.

“They’re just trying to get through the day, to find shelter,” explained Thera.

By incorporating online and in-person services moving forward, Keller and Thera are preparing to meet the future needs of students across the province, as well as social workers, administrators, and managers who support them.

“We’re getting ready for when there is some normality returning to our lives and lifestyles,” said Thera. “We’re making sure we can provide the appropriate services to meet the needs that are presented to us.”

The first live-stream educational webinar “Exploring sexual/intimate partner violence” will be held on May 19, 1:00-2:00 p.m. For more information or to register, please contact Lynn Thera at lynn.thera@uregina.ca.

For a full list of upcoming webinars and group sessions, visit: Sexual Violence Prevention and Response office and Counselling Services.

If you or someone you know is in distress, call 9-1-1. If you are a U of R student seeking counselling and are not in a life-threatening situation, please contact Counselling Services through their Online Contact Us Form or email the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response office at lynn.thera@uregina.ca.

Bystander Tips for Preventing Violence

Pay attention to what is happening: When you overhear comments or see interactions ask yourself, “How does this behaviour impact the other person?”
♦ Trust your instincts: Decide if you think someone should step in and help. Consider how you can deal with this situation safely.
♦ Make a plan: Think about how you can keep yourself safe, what your available options are, and how other people can be a part of the solution.
♦ Intervene: Create a distraction; directly ask the person who is behaving inappropriately to either stop their behaviour or ask the victim if they need help; go and seek help from an authority; and, ask other bystanders to help.

Your actions matter and can make a huge impact!

Related

Sexual Assault Awareness Week May 12 – 18, 2020. 

Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office 

Student Affairs Counselling Services 

U of R Sexual Violence/Misconduct Policy 

Another important step towards a safe and supportive campus