AACUSS Highlight - On-the-Go Support Offered by The Counselling Centre at Saint Mary’s University

Submitted by: Sarah Morris, MEd. Assistant Director of Student Services

Saint Mary’s University prides itself on innovation, so much so it’s one of the pillars of our Institutional Strategic Plan. For the Winter 2017 semester The Counselling Centre decided to pilot an innovative project, in the hopes of offering support to students using a different approach. As a result, On-the-Go Support was born. Historically, several universities in Canada and the United States have embedded counsellors in other services across campus (i.e. residence, international centres), however, On-the-Go Support is different than such offerings.

On-the-Go Support was not meant to duplicate counselling sessions already available on campus. Rather, it was intended as an option for students to make a preliminary connection with The Counselling Centre who were in need of mental health support but, for whatever reason, had not made it into The Centre. Conversely, it was also meant to offer one-time support to those who may have needed assistance but not necessarily ongoing counselling. Such one-time support included offering validation/reassurance and a place to talk about their current difficulties while providing resources and appropriate referrals, among other things.

On-the-Go Support was piloted in Residence (On-the-Go Support @ Home) and Graduate Studies (On-the-Go Support @ Grad Studies). Residence was selected as many first year students live on campus and require transitional support that goes beyond their first semester. They may not necessarily need ongoing counselling and their concerns could possibly be met using a single session or brief model. Graduate Studies was selected as many graduate students face a unique set of challenges in their academic careers. However, they tend to be more isolated than their undergraduate peers while having less access to specialized services targeted to such peers. In Residence a therapist from The Counselling Centre was present in an office central among the three Residence buildings every Friday from 1:30 to 4:00. In Graduate Studies a therapist was present in the Graduate Studies office every second Monday from 2:00 to 4:00. Appointments were entirely on a drop-in basis and limited to 30 minutes maximum.

On-the-Go Support was received well by many individuals across campus and talked about readily. In terms of student uptake, we met with 10 students in Residence and 4 students in Gradate Studies throughout the semester. Several of those students were encouraged to pursue ongoing therapy at The Counselling Centre, and a few did follow through, while others were provided with resources and/or referrals and encouraged to drop-in again, if necessary.

Like any pilot project, On-the-Go Support had some challenges. One of the bigger challenges was finding optimal locations for the service. Securing an office that offered privacy (to uphold confidentiality) that was also somewhat central in a communal space (in the hopes of offering visual cues) was difficult. Additionally, securing a space that provided adequate safety for the clinician and students was essential. For graduate students, in particular, situating On-the-Go Support in the Gradate Studies office may have deterred some students from seeking support who required it, for fear that programming staff and/or faculty may see them seeking help or be notified of their need for help (which was not the case).

Looking ahead to September 2017, the intention is to run On-the-Go Support @ Home and @ Grad Studies again, which would allow a more throughout full-year assessment of the service. Meetings were conducted with various University personnel to explore the frequency of presentation, location and other challenges encountered in the Winter semester.

If anyone is interested in learning more about On-the-Go Support offered via The Counselling Centre at Saint Mary’s University please feel free to reach out to us using the information below:

Cindy Boland, M.Ed. Psychologist (Candidate Register)

The Counselling Centre, Saint Mary’s University

923 Robie Street, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3H 3C3

Phone: (902) 496-8172     Reception: (902) 420-5615

Email: cindy.boland@smu.ca