Comfort in Community
How bridges are made with the group support of Counselling Connect
Born out of necessity during the early days of the pandemic, Counselling Connect has grown and thrived as an accessible alternative for confidential, brief mental health and addictions counselling appointments.
COVID-19 had meant walk-in, in-person counselling came to an immediate halt. But the need did not slow down.
Christine Chesser joined the Coordination Committee shortly after it launched.
“Many people started experiencing anxiety and/or depression or other mental health challenges for the very first time because of the pandemic,” says Chesser. “They didn't understand it, they didn't know what was wrong with them, and maybe they felt like they were broken. And they just really didn't know where to turn. And Counselling Connect became that step to get free and quick access to counselling, usually the same day.”
The effort's speed and effectiveness were due to the collaboration of the service providers involved.
Natasha Popara was there from the beginning. She’s a mental health and addiction counsellor at Centretown Community Health Center.
“There was recognition that there was a gap,” says Popara. “And then it definitely filled the gap.”
More than 20,000 clients later, another gap has been recognized and addressed.
“We started adding support groups to the website,” said Chesser, who is a Project Coordinator. “And now we're in Phase Two, and we're scaling up the types of groups that we want to offer on the website and in the different service categories.”
Popara is a facilitator for support groups through Counselling Connect and is thrilled with the ability to help more people of different ages and locations.
“It was easier to reach out to people not only in Ottawa, but in our outskirts, and I'm noticing with my referrals to Group that some live in areas that are remote, and they certainly don't
have services available to them that are accessible.”
“Why it's an important step in my mind, is a sense of empowerment, to help build community. I think support groups really do help with building hope and resiliency.”
- Christine Chesser
The expanded group counselling is available now on the Counselling Connect website, which includes peer support, psychoeducation, and therapeutic counseling.
Counselling Connect hopes to expand with more groups developed for 2SLGBTQ+, Youth and African, Caribbean, and Black populations, as well as addressing Violence Against Women, anxiety and depression, caregiver supports, and substance use health and addictions.
“One of the things that groups can provide, whether you're in person or you're attending virtually, it allows you to be part of a community and not be so isolated, and to be around other people who may have experienced similar challenges as yourself,” says Chesser.
“What I hear people repeatedly saying is, ‘Oh, I no longer feel I'm the only one,’” says Popara. “So that's why I think groups add that layer of breaking the social isolation and giving them the feeling that they're not alone.”
Counselling Connect is continuing to look for support groups to add to the website to broaden the range of offerings to peers and clients. If you or your organization offers support groups and you would like to discuss what the processes are for onboarding your group, registration, and referral options, please contact Christine Chesser at firstname.lastname@example.org