Low pay for counselling contracts is causing a shortage of services in N.S., says counsellor

Victim Services in Nova Scotia pays private practitioners $85 per hour to counsel victims of crime. (mrmohock/stock.adobe.com - image credit)
Victim Services in Nova Scotia pays private practitioners $85 per hour to counsel victims of crime. (mrmohock/stock.adobe.com - image credit)

The fee the Nova Scotia government pays private practitioners to provide counselling to victims of crimes is discouraging them from signing up to help, says a Wolfville, N.S., therapist.

Wendy Stubbert has been providing trauma counselling for women and children for the last five years. She said the work entails accepting clients from the provincial Victim Services and Child Protection agencies.

Victim Services pays $85 per 50-minute session for its criminal injuries counselling program, but Stubbert said the normal rate for such a service is between $120 and $180 per session.

She said the government rate isn't enough to cover professional costs, especially in a time of rising inflation.

"If you are a counsellor and you've spent years developing your skill sets and doing your continued education credits to become an expert in your methodology of practice, you can't survive on $85 an hour," she said.

Under the government contracts, Stubbert said practitioners are not allowed to charge anything to the client to make up for the low session fee.

Wendy Stubbert
Wendy Stubbert

Access to support was limited after mass shootings: families

The availability of mental health services has been a recent focus at the public inquiry examining the mass shootings of April 2020. In interviews with the Mass Casualty Commission, families of the victims — as well as residents of Portapique, N.S., who survived the shootings — said they had difficulty accessing mental health support offered by the province.

Several relatives of the shooting victims reached out to therapists on the list of vendors approved through Victim Services only to be told they weren't taking new clients, while former residents of Portapique were told it would take weeks or even months before they would get support.

Stubbert said those comments were of concern to her, saying therapists should have been available immediately for the families of victims and the community at large.

She said therapists get into their profession because they want to help, but the low pay rates are contributing to a shortage of therapists willing to take clients under the government contracts.

"To have that generosity and compassion valued so cheaply is really discouraging and so many therapists will not take these contracts," she said.

Rates not adjusted in more than a decade

Stubbert said the province needs to increase the fee to close the gap with the market rate — and suggests that be at least $100 per session.

She said the fee hasn't changed in over a decade.

"Many won't even certify with government providers because it's just not worth the hassle with so little remuneration," said Stubbert.

Peter McLaughlin, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said as of Friday there were 280 counsellors participating in the program. He said that number is very "fluid" and changes daily.

McLaughlin said the department is always reviewing the rates to ensure they meet the needs of those dependent on the services. He would not say if the province is considering an increase to the therapy contract fee.