Counselling Psychology supports Canadian francophonie

Posted on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Andrea Too

The MA in counselling psychology allowed Andrea Too to pursue her research interest in health psychology in French, her second language. Photo: Kelly Haggart

A French-language master’s program in counselling psychology will help expand mental health services for francophones across the country, says Professor André Samson, vice-dean in the Faculty of Education. The University of Ottawa is the only university in North America to offer such a program in French, but its existence is not widely known, he says.

“The French Language Services Commissioner of Ontario often criticizes the shortage of mental health workers able to provide services in French. I lived in Toronto for two years and there are almost no psychologists or psychotherapists there who provide services in French. It is even worse in Northern Ontario. This counselling psychology program will help fill that need.”

Counselling psychology is taught at many English universities in Canada, but French-language universities in Quebec do not offer such programs. The University of Ottawa has carved out a niche by providing this graduate program in French.

Now in its third year, the program has 16 students (compared with 30 students in the English stream, who were selected from among 300 applicants). Samson says the French-language program is already having an impact on services for francophone communities. The program trains mental health professionals, which will be a great help to francophone minority communities because of a shortage of French-speaking and bilingual psychotherapists.

Different ways to complete the program

Students can earn a course-based master of education (MEd), and this year a major research paper option was also introduced in this stream. Or they can apply to complete a master of arts in education (MA) with thesis. Those pursuing the MA have the opportunity to conduct research at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario or The Ottawa Hospital, co-supervised by Samson and professors at the Faculty of Medicine.

Many courses are offered online or in hybrid format, which is advantageous for students who work or study part time. Both the MEd and the MA programs include a clinical training component and qualify graduates for membership in professional associations such as the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. After graduation, Quebec students can join the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d’orientation du Québec and have the right to use the title of psychotherapist by the Ordre des psychologues du Québec.

Camille Ferland

Camille Ferland

Real-world training

Camille Ferland, a francophone from Eastern Ontario, did an eight-month internship at the Mental Health and Addiction Regional Centre (Hawkesbury General Hospital) as part of her MEd. Now a registered psychotherapist (qualifying), she says the internship component of the program not only allowed her to fulfill her professional goals but also made for a very enriching experience.

“During my internship, I had the opportunity to work closely with a large multidisciplinary team and a diverse group of clients of different ages and with a variety of issues. I had the chance to not only apply the knowledge I gained during my studies but also, and most importantly, benefit from the knowledge and experience of my supervisor, Caroline Tadros, as well as other colleagues. I had the opportunity to grow professionally and personally while a member of this great team.”

Research opportunities

Andrea Too, an anglophone from Montreal, says the MA in counselling psychology allowed her to pursue her research interest in health psychology in French, her second language. Working under the supervision of Professor Samson and Dr. Janice Barkey at CHEO, her master’s research sought to better understand the experiences of parents of children with a rare and potentially fatal condition known as polyposis.

“Through interviewing parents, we were able to collect data that revealed that parents play a very important role in advocating for their children’s health needs in the healthcare system and in teaching their children those advocating skills. Also, parents of children with rare and chronic illnesses have been shown to be at elevated risk for developing anxiety and depression. Physicians can help protect them against this by providing family-centred care and being aware of resources available to help parents.”

Andrea Too is now doing a PhD in clinical psychology in French at the Université du Québec en Outaouais. As part of her PhD, she will complete a 12-month internship at Montfort Hospital beginning in September 2018.

Meeting an urgent need

Whether students complete the course-based or the research stream of the counselling psychology master’s program, Professor Samson knows they will all go on to help meet a pressing need.

“Many of our graduates are now working as psychotherapists with the federal government and different community groups. The need for psychotherapists in Ontario will take a few years to address, but at least we're doing our part.”

Find out more at an information session (in French) on October 4 at 1 p.m. in LPR 285 (129 Louis Pasteur). If you can't be there in person, attend online! Register here.


André Samson and Philippe Robaey sit together at a table in an office.

Professor André Samson (left) and psychiatrist Philippe Robaey, who work together on research projects on ADHD. Students can participate in this research as part of their work for their MA thesis in counselling psychology.


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