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Mapping out Remote Mental Health Services: What to Expect

Angel Kennedy

January 21, 2021 6 Min Read

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread negative mental health impacts, increasing the need for mental health services. However, it also rapidly shifted the delivery of mental health services to remote models and platforms. MindMapBC is a database that indexes various low-barrier mental health services, including remote counselling, to meet this changing mental health landscape.

There are several potential benefits to remote counselling; for example, it might feel safer speaking with a counsellor from the comfort of your own home, remote counselling may make it easier to schedule counselling sessions, can be more cost-effective, and it can increase access for individuals who would otherwise not be able to attend sessions in person such as individuals with mobility issues, those without access to transportation, people in more remote/underserved areas, people who are responsible for caregiving, and those concerned with anonymity (i.e. don't want to be seen arriving at counsellors office). Remote mental health services have been found to be more effective than in-person services in a lot of cases! However, we acknowledge that in some instances, technical difficulties can make building and maintaining relationships through remote counselling challenging. This shift to remote counselling may also feel daunting, especially for people who don’t usually use technology. Additionally, we acknowledge that remote counselling will not be possible for everyone; for example, individuals who do not have access to a phone, computer, or WiFi, or individuals who do not have a safe or private space to engage in remote counselling. However, this should not deter you from finding support. Instead, try contacting some services near you using the MindMapBC geo-locating function and see what options they have for people who cannot access remote counselling.

For individuals who are interested in finding remote services, MindMapBC has a filter for this: try using the ‘telehealth’ or ‘online resources’ filter when searching. Tip: Since services with these filters are offering remote care, it does not matter where they appear on the map, and this can increase your options when looking at services in other cities/parts of the province.

Additionally, MindMapBC indexes several services and informational resources which have become available in response to the pandemic, including:

Here are some key points on what to expect when seeking remote services:

Platforms: Currently, services are operating over online chat, phone, and various video conferencing platforms.

Intake Processes: Some intake processes are now being conducted over the phone, via video calls, or through online forms.

Accessing Sessions: Counsellors will reach out to you with information on how to connect to your session. If you aren’t sure how this process will work, don’t hesitate to ask your counsellor or administrative staff for more information. There may be videos or instructions posted online about how to join meetings for the platform that will be used for your session. For example, Doxy and Zoom are commonly used platforms for video counselling sessions and have a lot of comprehensive instructions and user supports available.

Here are some instructions on how to join general video sessions for various platforms:

Doxy: How to Use

Zoom: How to Sign Up for Zoom; How to Join a Meeting over Zoom

Google Meet: How to Join a Meeting over Google Meet

Skype: How to Join a Meeting over Skype

Here are some tips on getting the most out of your remote mental health sessions:

  1. Reflect on whether certain types of counselling will work (or may work) better for you over the remote format. You may find that counselling approaches/styles that work well for you in person do not have the same effect remotely, and vice-versa. Similarly, you may feel more comfortable with phone counselling over video counselling, or the reverse. Just because you find that one isn’t as effective for you doesn’t mean the other ones won’t be!
  2. Let your counsellor know if you have been having difficulties acquiring or using the technology needed for the sessions. They may have some resources or tips that can help! If your Internet seems slow, one trick is to disconnect other devices from the Internet during the duration of your session and to only keep necessary Internet browsing tabs open.
  3. Find a comfortable spot from which to take your sessions. This could be outdoors, indoors, in your bedroom, in the home office, or in the kitchen. Bring anything with you that makes you feel at ease (including a cup of tea, a blanket, your pajamas, etc!).
  4. Try to remove distractions from your environment. This could mean putting your phone on silent, closing the window to remove background noises, and/or keeping the door closed. Whatever you can do to help you feel focused and at ease is beneficial.
  5. To avoid interruptions, putting a sign on the door letting people know that you are in a meeting may help. Another trick is to use earphones or headphones if you are worried about others hearing the conversation.
  6. Routinely reflect on whether the connection with your counsellor feels comfortable and have open communication with your counsellor about how this can be improved. Building rapport and being comfortable with your counsellor through remote sessions may take some time to get used to, especially if it is your first time meeting your counsellor or you are still building your counselling relationship. You can also discuss with your counsellor specific ways to make the most out of your remote counselling sessions - they may have some tips!

Research has shown that remote counselling is often equally as effective as in-person services in the treatment of most mental health concerns and, in some cases, it is more effective than in-person services!

We hope this information provides you with clarity on what to expect when seeking virtual mental health support, both during the pandemic and into the future.

This piece was written by Angel Kennedy and the SMHART Team.

The information in this article was informed by research sponsored by the SFU Community-Engaged Research Initiative (CERi), and inspired by Peak Resilience’s “How to go to Counselling: Video & Phone Counselling”.

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