While the full impact of the pandemic on Canadians’ mental health is still unknown, new research at Western will cast light on how COVID-19 affected psychological counselling services, as well as monitor how that changes over the next four years.
Western education professors Jason Brown and Marguerite Lengyell and Athabasca University’s Melissa Jay have been awarded a $340,147 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to conduct the research, which will focus on access to counselling for low-income Canadians as well as the perceived results of counselling received.
The four-year study allows researchers time to measure trends in social impact, said Lengyell.
“It allows us to take a good look at what is slowly but surely changing, because we’ve seen some pretty intense trends in access to service over the course of the pandemic,” she said. “We know that access to mental health service is not hitting that pre-pandemic point, especially for folks who need services the most.”
The researchers will send a survey to the 10,000 members of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.
The practitioners will be asked what impact COVID-19 had on counselling services, what they did to create access to services for low-income clients, and what services helped.
Once the survey has been completed, the researchers will conduct interviews with both counsellors and clients.
Based on this information, they will develop themes and look at the similarities and differences between what clients and counsellors identify as having helped, said Jay, a registered psychologist and assistant professor at Athabasca.
Lengyell said she’s most curious about whether clients’ ideas of what helped match with those of counsellors.
“I’m super enthusiastic to see how those themes intersect, or if they don’t at all, because that would be important information for us,” she said.
The definition of low-income will be based on self-definition, she said, but will include food insecurity, housing and health challenges.
The research will help future practitioners understand what is needed by low-income clients and families, she added.
Jay hopes the study will give clients a voice.
“We’re going to learn what might be missing in counselling education, and what is needed to mentor new practitioners,” she said. “I’m really excited this grant is going to be put back into the community, and I think there’s going to be some really important findings that come out of it.”