Study aims to identify how COVID affected counselling services

September 07, 2022

Marguerite Lengyell and Melissa Jay.

The COVID pandemic has touched every aspect of society, including counselling services. While the extent of the problem in psychology isn’t known, a study from Education professors Jason Brown and Marguerite Lengyell from Western University and Melissa Jay from Athabasca University will discover how much COVID impacted low-income Canadians’ access to counselling services.

They were recently awarded a $340,147 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insights Grant to conduct a four-year study.

“I'm really excited this grant is going to be put back into the community and I think there's going to be some really important findings that come out of it,’ Jay said.

As part of the study, there are four areas they will look at. First, the impact COVID had on clients accessing counselling services. Second, the researchers will ask how counsellors created access to services for low-income clients and what counselling services helped them. Then, they will turn their attention to clients as they will ask them what counselling services helped. In addition, the scholars will explore what clients believed helped, and how a counsellors’ social location might impact cultural and intersectional awareness, Jay said.

“I'm most curious about whether clients are indicating what is helpful matches – or doesn't match – with what counselors are identifying as helpful,” Lengyell said. “I'm super enthusiastic to see how those themes intersect, or if they don't at all, because that would be important information for us.”

The researchers will send a survey to the 10,000 members of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. Once the survey has been completed, they will conduct interviews with clients and counsellors. Based on this information, the researchers will develop themes and look at the similarities and differences between what clients and counsellors identified as helpful, Jay said.  

She added low-income is based on self definition. However, it includes food insecurity, housing, and health challenges.

Since it’s a four-year study, Jay said they’re interested to see how services adapt over the study’s timeframe. Lengyell added the four years allows them to look at trends and gives them more time to look at social impact.

“It allows us to take a good look at what is slowly but surely changing, because we’ve seen some pretty intense trends in access to service over the course of the pandemic,” Lengyell said. “We know that access to mental health service is not hitting that pre-pandemic point, especially for folks who need the services the most.”

What’s more, Jay hopes the study will give clients a voice while Lengyell said their research will help future practitioners understand what is needed by low-income clients and families.

“It’s really exciting that we're going to learn what might be missing in counselling education and what is needed to mentor new practitioners,” Jay said.