Socializing, gaming, dating – all of it happens online in our modern world. But did you know that therapy is a service that is also offered online in Saskatchewan?
The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s new Online Therapy Team is housed in the Regina Mental Health Clinic, but they treat clients from across the province over the Internet.
Members of the SHA’s Online Therapy Team include (from left): Annette Kapell, Kristin Wilkie, Dr. Katherine Owens, Bobbi Gelsinger,
and Kimberly Bell.
“We provide online therapy service through our partner program, the Online Therapy Unit at the University of Regina,” explains Dr. Katherine Owens, senior psychologist and clinical director of the Online Therapy Team.
The therapy itself is free.
“This is a public service designed to allow people better access to mental health service,” Owens notes.
The online therapy service is available to any Saskatchewan resident over age 18 with anxiety and/or depression. There are also specific courses for those with chronic pain, chronic conditions such as fatigue, cancer or diabetes, or those who have a spinal cord injury.
“Whether you’re a caregiver looking for evidence-based resources to refer clients to for anxiety and depression, or looking for supports and resources for yourself, loved ones, or other people in your life, our team is here,” says Owens.
The new Online Therapy Team has the capacity to work with 1,200 people every year, and there is currently no wait for this service.
“Sending clients our way or getting started yourself really is as simple as going to the website www.onlinetherapyuser.ca,” Owens explains.
The website and content are hosted and owned by the University of Regina. The university Online Therapy Unit also screens the participants, conducts research, maintains client records, and provides therapy. The SHA’s Online Therapy Team is focused on providing the therapy services to increase capacity. Additionally, they are also working on promotions so Saskatchewan residents know about this important service.
The program offers Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT.
“Whether as a first-line treatment for people with mood or anxiety symptoms, or for those who have a limited response to medication, or if it’s used in conjunction with medication, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an important offering,” Owens says.
“Canadian clinical guidelines and research suggest that CBT and medications are equally effective for the treatment of most anxiety disorders,” says Owens, “and for depression, it’s been found that combining CBT with medication can lead to better outcomes for clients than medication alone.”
Estimates suggest that approximately one in four Canadians will experience anxiety or depression in their lifetime, and many of these people will not receive treatment.
“Many factors contribute to the under-treatment of these conditions,” notes Owens, “including a shortage of providers, mobility, time, finances, location and stigma.”
Online therapy mitigates many of these factors.
“The program is able to offer excellent therapy to people right in the comfort of their own homes,” Owens notes, “which means it’s easy for providers and clients to work together regardless of where clients live or what their schedules may be like. It’s private, and it’s free, so many of the barriers that can stand in the way of treatment are no longer considerations.”
There are instances where online therapy isn’t the right choice. It may not be right for people who are at a high level of severity or risk, or whose primary challenges are active psychosis, mania or addictions, Owens noted. But it can be a very appealing and appropriate choice for many.
And the approach is working. The University of Regina’s Online Therapy Unit (OTU) has been researching this therapist-assisted, Internet-delivered CBT (ICBT) since 2010, and that research is showing that this program is a promising approach for improving access to mental health care. Clients work through CBT material online with the weekly support of a registered social worker, psychologist, or a supervised graduate student.
“More than 3,500 Saskatchewan residents have taken part in this therapy and 95 per cent say they’d recommend it to others, that their symptoms are better, that they feel more confident managing their symptoms, and have learned new skills,” says Owens. “Clinical results have been extremely positive, showing an average reduction of symptoms by 50 percent over the course of eight weeks. The outcomes have been similar to face-to-face CBT.”