Digital therapy could be future of counselling at Ryerson

A $6-million grant application for e-mental health research means it may become easier for Ryerson students to access counselling services.

If the application is successful, the money will be delivered to and used by the Centre for Student Development and Counselling over three years to find potential methods of digital counselling and therapy, in collaboration with Confederation College and the Mental Health Innovation Fund.

“(Students) are now communicating so much through digital means and we can’t ignore it,” said Su-Ting Teo, director of student health and wellness at Ryerson. “We have to find ways to connect to the students through their own world.”

According to Teo, the high demand for mental health services leave some students waiting weeks for face-to-face appointments with Ryerson counsellors. Electronic services would help reduce wait times and provide easier access to support.

Students may soon be able to access counselling services on their mobile devices. (Kyla Dewar/Ryersonian Staff)

Students may soon be able to access counselling services on their mobile devices. (Kyla Dewar/Ryersonian Staff)

Teo said e-mental health is crucial to the future of counselling and wants to introduce it to Ryerson. However, there’s hesitation from the department to implement digital services because it’s unknown whether it would be more helpful than traditional counselling methods and if there are legal issues to consider.

A study from King’s College London surveyed 490 people and examined the effectiveness of existing e-mental health programs. It concluded that computerized treatments ultimately didn’t meet the needs of patients. Participants said they would be unlikely to use these methods again.

Meanwhile, another study from the University of British Columbia explored the preferences for young adults in regards to e-mental health care. Participants were asked questions about e-mental health initiatives and the consensus was that the ease of online access to professional support and the ability to connect online with peers with similar experiences helps to aid in recovery.

“It takes time to figure out if it’s more beneficial,” Teo said. “We know that face-to-face counselling is helpful and effective for people so we don’t want to replace that unless we’re absolutely sure that another way of doing it is better, or equal.”

According to Teo, the grant is expected to be awarded in the next few weeks.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Jan.  21, 2015.

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