Prioritizing mental health in education

Posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sawsane El Amiri, Diana Koszycki and Amélia Dowell.

From left to right: Sawsane El Amiri, Diana Koszycki and Amélia Dowell work at the Faculty of Education’s counselling clinic.

By Valérie Charbonneau

Sawsane El Amiri and Amélia Dowell, both MA candidates in Counselling Psychology (English program), are completing another day of work at the counselling clinic sponsored by the Faculty of Education. Located on the Lees campus, this clinic aims to provide long-term counselling to University of Ottawa students who may benefit from ongoing psychological support.

“It’s really interesting to help students take on the challenges of adapting to university, especially since this is something we went through not so long ago,” Sawsane said.

To complete their 500-hour internship in counselling psychology, Amélia and Sawsane have been meeting for the past year with undergraduates who require professional mental health services.

“I really appreciate being able to track the progress of these students over a longer period,” Amélia said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to create strong therapeutic bonds with our clients.”

Sawsane and Amélia are supervised by Diana Koszycki, a clinical psychologist who is a member of both the College of Psychologists of Ontario and a similar order in Quebec. She is also a professor in the Faculty of Education and cross-appointed to the Department of Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine. Both interns counsel a dozen clients each, drawing on various well-established techniques to help the students they meet.

“Many students at Canadian universities struggle with anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, and relationship and other issues that can negatively affect their academic success and other areas of their lives,” Koszycki said. She explained that clients of the clinic – who may be referred by the Student Academic Success Services – receive longer term counselling that can help foster resilience and improve mental health, interpersonal relationships and social supports.

Marie-Pier Couture sits in an armchair with a pen in her hand and smiles at the camera.

Marie-Pier Couture, an MEd student specializing in educational counselling, is completing an internship at uOttawa’s Career Development Centre.

Master’s programs that offer a concentration in counselling psychology are not new, but the significance of changes to the concentration will be fully felt when they take effect in May 2016. The University of Ottawa will be the only university in Canada to offer students an opportunity to complete a master’s in education with a concentration in counselling psychology in French.

“This concentration, the only one of its kind in French in Canada, will meet the acute need for certified, trained mental health professionals to provide services in Francophone communities in Ontario,” said Raymond Leblanc, Dean of the Faculty of Education. “Our graduates will be able to work in a field that guides, assists, informs, listens to and treats individuals on the basis of a proven treatment protocol.”

Marie-Pier Couture, who is completing a master’s in education in counselling psychology in French, particularly appreciated the diversity of clients she worked with during her rotation at the mental health clinic at Montfort Hospital.

“Within a few months, I was able to apply the theories I had learned to treat mental health problems such as anxiety, depression or addiction,” said Marie-Pier, who is now completing an internship at the uOttawa Career Development Centre, where she also counsels students.

Although she is new to Francophone Ontario, she intends to pursue her career in a setting where Francophones are a minority.

“While working at Montfort, I realized how great the demand is for specialized mental health services in French across Ontario,” she said. “Being able to talk and be understood in your mother tongue is crucial for minority communities. I don’t think that mental health professionals will lack for work in the coming years.”

The expertise that these three master’s students are gaining from working with students will benefit not only their careers, but also the university community, which is experiencing a growing demand for mental health services.

Watch Sawsane and Amélia’s testimonial describing their experience at the clinic (in French only).

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