UBC Okanagan provides substance use counselling over video conferencing

University of British Columbia's Okanagan campus in Kelowna is shifting its substance use counselling services online, making them more accessible amid COVID-19.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction says people may increase alcohol and cannabis consumption during the pandemic because of anxiety due to the economic downturn or loneliness from physical distancing.

"There are always barriers to accessing substance use treatment, and all the new restrictions on gathering and getting out are just increasing those barriers," UBC clinical psychologist Zach Walsh told Brady Strachan, guest host of CBC's Daybreak South.

"It just seemed like going online made the most sense."

Walsh founded the UBC Okanagan's Problematic Substance Use Clinic two years ago. He supervises doctoral-level clinical psychology students who provide talk therapies over video conferencing to the university's students, as well as members of the public.

Walsh's online clinic is part of a trend in B.C. to increase virtual mental health support as the pandemic makes it challenging for counsellors to physically see patients in a clinic.

Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia
Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia

UBC Okanagan is also providing counselling sessions online to students, faculty and staff members as well as community members who experience mental health issues.

Walsh says he was initially skeptical about the effectiveness of online therapies.

"But really I find that we can get that same level of engagement or a similar level of engagement," he said. "That connection and the helpfulness comes through on the video conference."

Walsh's clinic offers psychological help to clients who have issues with alcohol, opioids and cocaine among other substances.

"It's not necessarily about how much you use, but about what kind of problems it's causing for you," he said.

"We'll see people who don't use that often, yet it's causing them distress or interfering with their functioning in life. So that's problematic."

The clinic charges consultation fees based on a sliding scale, ranging from $10 to $80 per hour, depending on the client's income.

"If there's a reason why that $10 would be an obstacle, we would discuss that [with the clients] as well," Walsh said. "We don't want to turn anyone away because of their ability to pay."

Appointments with the clinic can be made via phone 250-807-8241, fax 250-807-9675, or email