Archway is proud to provide specialized counselling services for individuals seeking to address matters including substance misuse, sexual abuse, victims of crime, parents seeking to improve mental wellness and newcomers acculturating to life in Canada.
Like many social service providers, Archway counselling staff were faced with distinct challenges at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some found that effectively maintaining connections to clients with unfamiliar technology was daunting. At the same time, some clients initially considered waiting until the pandemic was over to resume counselling services.
Counselling clients soon began reporting increased levels of stress and anxiety and have sought greater assistance with coping strategies during COVID. Concerningly, staff have also reported an increase in domestic violence files during the lockdown.
When it became apparent restrictions were not to be lifted quickly, both counsellors and clients were eager to explore different options. Archway Clinic Counsellor Josie Kane, M.A., R.C.C, reported that many clients who were initially hesitant about virtual-only counselling found online services offered increased comfort and distance. Some began to open up more, and others who weren’t willing or able to attend in-person sessions became receptive to the idea of phone and video sessions. “Don’t assume good things can only happen face to face,” she shared.
Josie’s key to navigating the pandemic is “resilience;” building it in her clients and encouraging it in her coworkers and community. She finds it helpful to have “a sense of humour and a back-up plan,” such as an alternate method of contact for a client in case of technical difficulties. Her positive attitude and perseverance have been vital while supporting clients. She also reaches out to others through COVID Facebook support groups and leaves messages of hope in the common areas of her apartment building. “Little things matter!” she exclaimed, such as reminding people they aren’t alone.
“My mantra is, ‘right now it’s like this,’” she shared. It’s a simple, honest statement acknowledging current tough times and the fact they won’t last forever.
At the Abbotsford Addictions Centre, Counsellor Ernest Chorabik is engaged in an Indigenous Addictions Pilot Project, which faces additional challenges during the pandemic. His goals are to increase the presence of Indigenous-specific counselling services in the Abbotsford area, assess the needs of underserved Indigenous people locally, provide counselling to those living on and off reserves, build bridges with community members and provide tools and groups for the ‘Red Road Recovery program.’ The ‘Red Road’ is a reference to following an Indigenous spiritual path during recovery and counselling.
These are important and significant responsibilities at any time, let alone during the pandemic. By July 2020 he had 37 clients and expects numbers will increase, especially as group recovery meetings at the Mission Friendship Centre were postponed during the pandemic.
While considerate of following guidelines during the pandemic for the safety of clients and coworkers, as an essential worker Ernest has often remained on site at Abbotsford Addictions to help clients unable or hesitant to connect virtually. In addition to counselling sessions, he offers all Indigenous clients pre- and post-session smudging, as he believes “culture is healing.” Non-Indigenous clients may also participate if they wish, and he hopes it will open them up to new experiences and ways of thinking.
As the community has started to carefully reopen, he and Lesley Braithwaite, Supervisor of Abbotsford Addictions, have begun to reach out to Sto:lo Nation and Matsqui First Nation councils with the hope of making connections and offering more services to members living on and off reserves. “Judging by the trajectory thus far, it augurs well for the remainder of the term and future continuation of the program,” he shared.
Ernest Chorabik has often remained on site at Abbotsford Addictions to help clients unable or hesitant to connect virtually. In addition to counselling sessions, he offers all Indigenous clients pre- and post-session smudging, as he believes “culture is healing.”
At the Archway office on George Ferguson Way, Anas Najim and his team have remained busy offering counselling and other support services to newcomers through the Moving Ahead Program (MAP) and Stream B Counselling and Employment Program. Focused on refugee claimants and vulnerable immigrants and refugees facing multiple barriers to acculturation and addressing trauma, it was essential that those in need not lose access to these vital supports during COVID.
While sessions are traditionally one-on-one, during the pandemic most have transitioned to telephone and video conference check-ins. An added challenge is that, while staff at Archway speak more than 20 different languages and we have bilingual or trilingual clinical counsellors, it is sometimes necessary to schedule translators for specific languages.
“For many clients, counselling is a foreign concept to begin with and doing so virtually can be even more challenging. It takes a lot of trust building to get them to start engaging with counselling sessions,” shared Anas.
MAP staff also provide support services, such as directing clients to the Archway Food Bank, assisting during doctors’ appointments, helping complete government paperwork and offering guidance with legal matters, banking and more. Through these interactions, clients slowly start to open up about other issues impacting family dynamics.
MAP staff also identified and addressed a unique concern, the amount of incorrect information about COVID-19 government benefits that was spreading throughout newcomer communities. “Our duty was to clarify all benefits to clients using their first language, and send out explanatory publications,” explained Anas.
“For many clients, counselling is a foreign concept to begin with and doing so virtually can be even more challenging. It takes a lot of trust building to get them to start engaging with counselling sessions.”
South Asian Community Resources
Also at our George Ferguson Way location a clinical counsellor, bilingual in English and Punjabi, have been busy providing sessions to families and youth in distress through the South Asian Community Resource Office (SACRO.) SACRO staff coordinated virtual and telephone counselling for family dysfunction, addictions, parental abuse, educational supports. Some clients were stuck in India with limited help because of the travel ban and staff had to support them through that turmoil virtually.
SACRO staff also offered guidance on substance use and harm reduction when selling drugs or having police contact during the pandemic, facilitated conversations between youth and their parents and gave advice on sexual exploitation and safely using dating apps.
Many youth and their families accessed SACRO services via phone and online messaging while others with less access to technology attended physically-distant meetings at the Archway office.
SACRO staff like Parveen Uppal have coordinated virtual and telephone counselling.
Archway Abuse Counselling programs also began offering both remote and in-person services during COVID-19, with the understanding that virtual services aren’t suitable for all their clients.
Counsellors were conscious of increased reports of domestic violence, as many intimate partners suddenly found themselves on lockdown with their abusers. Staff connected with clients in the most suitable ways for each situation and provided online information and resources for urgent situations via the internet.
The Abuse Counselling programs work with many different clients including women who have experienced domestic violence, children who have been sexually abused, women who have exited the sex trade and individuals needing one-on-one short-term counselling.
The Family Connections Counselling program offered remote and in person counselling to individuals and couples during the pandemic. Clients were very resourceful in finding confidential places to engage in remote sessions and joined in from their vehicle, bathtub or storage room!
Marlayne Penner, Counsellor and Clinical Supervisor at Archway and Counselling Intern Sebastian Wingfield found a creative way to offer the Mental Wellness Parenting Group by hosting a series of weekly videos. These mental wellness sessions, along with printable resources and supplementary videos, were made available to clients enrolled in the program through a private webpage they could access at their convenience from any device.
With significant increases in stress and anxiety widely reported this spring and summer, it was important to continue offering services for clients seeking to improve their mental wellness while parenting during the pandemic.
Counselling intern Sebastian Wingfield offered virtual Mental Wellness Parenting sessions.
Finally, over at The Foundry, a health and wellness centre for local youth aged 12 to 24, all counselling services were initially offered virtually at the start of the pandemic. Virtual peer support, phone chats, online messaging and virtual or phone counselling were some of the innovative services offered to youth, parents and caregivers.
In mid-July, in-person counselling sessions were restarted for existing clients, and now Foundry is open for face-to-face appointments with new clients two days a week, although they have yet to return to the walk-in sessions they once offered.
While counselling is typically thought of as an in-person private or group activity, access to technology and the spirit of innovation have proved that services could continue during the pandemic. Archway counselling staff and their clients have demonstrated resiliency and adaptability during trying times in their pursuit of improved mental wellness.