Walk-in Counselling Clinic: Making Mental Health Services More AccessibleApril 30, 2021
The Ottawa walk-in counselling clinic’s mission is to help Ottawa residents with issues that are oppressing them by bringing them immediate access to mental health counselling services. The program is operated by different community partners operating in eight locations in Ottawa and three locations in the surrounding area (Cornwall, Deep River and Carleton Place). Services are free and available in English, French, Arabic, Spanish and Mandarin. A list of locations and languages used is available on the Walk-in Counselling Clinic website.
One of the main successes of the program is that there are no waiting lists. Clients can access and receive timely support when they feel ready to address their problem. Clients are served the same day and if the location a client is calling is fully booked for that day, they will be directed to another location. In the case of the Ottawa Walk-in clinic, about three quarter of about three thousand clients served every year did not need to continue with medium or long-term counselling. The rest get referred to other counselling services.
The clinic treats a broad range of mental health issues that prevent people from fully functioning including issues arising from problems related to relationships, family, employment, etc. Not only people get immediate help but the level of their distress also decreases and their coping with their problems increases.
Another uniqueness about the program is that clients who require services in languages other than English and French get counsellors who understand their cultural practices and speak their languages. “It’s not only important to have professional clinical knowledge and credentials but also to have culturally competent counsellors who besides speaking clients’ languages can also address clients’ problems in sensitive and appropriate ethnic and cultural context”, Mirjana Pobric, Coordinator Of the Walk-in Counselling Clinic at Jewish Family Services of Ottawa.
This is equally important for second-generation immigrants who might speak English or French very well but still follow their cultural practices. Even if they are comfortable communicating in official languages and can be served by any professional counsellor, what is more important for them is that the counsellor knows the cultural environment they come from and it will be easier for them to communicate the problems they face.
The program recently started a pilot project specific to the African Caribbean Black (ACB) population. Clients who require this service can receive services in English, French and Arabic. The project has been successful and is looking for long-term funding. There also other services for specific groups such as LGBT2SQ+ community regardless of the racial and cultural groups they belong to.
The idea of starting a walk-in counselling service in Ottawa was born in 2014 out of a realization that lack of therapeutic and clinical mental health services lead to a situation where many clients ended up going to the emergency department in hospitals With the walk-in counselling clinic model, clients get services quickly and can be referred to other support services which are not necessarily counselling.
“We can also often connect them to a variety of other specific services in the community, like housing, legal aid, social assistance because some people , particularly newcomers, don’t know about those services,” Pobric.