October 4, 2018 4:12 pm
Updated: October 6, 2018 8:50 am

‘Our mental health system is flawed’: Canadian app offers online video counselling for patients in need

WATCH ABOVE: Inkblot Therapy is an online video counselling solution with the highest level security, it's affordable and easy to use. This accessible service matches clients with therapists based on their needs and preferences.

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This is part one of a two-part series focusing on how digital solutions are changing how Canadians can find support for mental health. You can find part two here.

A Canadian mental health company is offering its users the opportunity to receive therapy online through the use of secured video counselling with registered psychotherapists and social workers.

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Launched by Dr. Arash Zohoor, Inkblot Therapy was created in response to Zohoor’s inability to provide his patients the help they needed in regard to mental health citing extremely long waitlists.

“Our mental health system is flawed in that if you want to see a specialist, it takes up to six to nine months,” Inkblot Therapy psychotherapist Julie Sabine told Global News. “If you go to a doctor and you present with anxiety or depression, they’ll prescribe you medication. But you need to pair that with therapy.”

READ MORE: Ontario government-funded program offers mental health support 24/7

According to Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, in the province, people routinely have to wait six months to well over a year to get help.

Inkblot is a confidential, encrypted and safe mental health video counselling app that matches a client with a therapist based on the user’s needs and preferences.

“It’s for people who have depression, people who have anxiety,” Sabine said.

“It’s also for people who are stressed or care about their mental wellness and want to be on top of it and they want to take care of themselves. It’s also a form of self-care.”

Sabine said users can log on using their computer, tablets and/or phones. They’ll be asked to register and answer a set of questions so that the program’s algorithm can provide them with an option of multiple counsellors it feels would be suitable for the user. The client can then read through each bio and when they would like to take the next step, they can simply click on the name and the counsellor’s schedule will appear. Users can typically book eight hours in advance.

“We want people to be matched with the right therapist because that’s how the therapeutic process works,” Sabine said. “If someone is comfortable with their therapist, especially sooner than later, the therapy will take effect a lot sooner.”

Sabine said Inkblot is looking to not only alleviate extreme wait times but make therapy more effective, by the user being able to be in their own environment as opposed to having to travel to another office.

“If you think of a mom who is suffering from post-natal depression at home with her baby, how do you get a babysitter?” Sabine said, adding it also allows those who may live in remote communities with no immediate access to care, to be able to use Inkblot as a solution.

READ MORE: Toronto facing mental health and addiction crisis amid spike in overdose deaths: mayor

Inkblot has about 150-200 therapists registered across Canada. It offers hour-long sessions, with an option for a shorter 30-minute one if the user requests it. The cost is $75 an hour — half the cost of the national average — and it can be covered by insurance.

Maura O’Keefe, clinical coordinator for the centre for student development and counselling at Ryerson University, said while online services like Inkblot do help to increase access to care, especially for those people not in a city centre or who may be home bound, it cannot replace the value of an in-person therapeutic relationship.

“It can help with people getting a certain level of mental health support and service but a lot of people still want to talk to a person and so, the experience of being in a digital therapeutic relationship is quite different than being in an in-person therapeutic relationship in terms of the level of connection, the level of feedback that can be garnered from what’s happening,” O’Keefe told Global News on Thursday.

O’Keefe said there is research emerging around the differing experience of an online supportive environment versus an in-person supportive environment.

“I think it’s helpful to have more online resources and more funding but I don’t think it is the same thing as having in-person counselling,” she said.

“I think we need both and I think we need funding and resources for both.”

Natalie Roach, mental health coordinator in Workplace Wellbeing Services at Ryerson University, echoed O’Keefe’s opinion about the need for both options.

To Roach, both in-personal and digital counselling could be something that could possibly be a stepping stone or even an exit plan for someone who has or will see an in-person therapist.

READ MORE: Ontario government says some of $1.9 billion earmarked for mental health will go to police

“I think they’re very great complementary services and sometimes standalone services, as well,” she said.

However, Roach said the one caution she does have is that digital solutions should not be used as a crisis level support system for those who are in critical need of help and/or who are possibly suicidal.

Mental Health Awareness Week

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, Inkblot is offering free same-day therapy. Users can register online and are assigned a counsellor immediately rather than having to wait the typical eight hours.

“We are trying to help. One in five Canadians have mental health issues yet only a third are getting the help they need,” Sabine said. “We want to give you help this week. It’s our gift to Canadians who are looking to take care of themselves this week.”

Amanda Lederle, who uses the app, said that she had tried other traditional styles of therapy, but said that the “unique” experience of Inkblot is what has helped her.

“I feel great. It’s really comforting to know that I can just log in, choose a date that works for me and know that I don’t need to go, take transit to go somewhere and get the help,” she told Global News on Wednesday.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. For mental health programs and services around Canada, please refer to the list here

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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