The Elk River outside of Fernie in winter. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Navigating mental health options in the Elk Valley

Contributed by Dr. Tyla Charbonneau

Registered Psychologist

It is fairly safe to call the last year a challenge. When it comes to our mental health many of us noticed an increase in anxiety, depression, or other concerns. The social restrictions and pandemic life seem to have exacerbated many symptoms that may have felt manageable prior to Covid-19. Right now our little valley has more mental health resources than ever before and it could not come at a better time. Having these resources available is incredible. It can, however, be overwhelming to know how to choose a therapist or really even where to start looking for one. The following are some suggestions to help you chose a therapist to fit your needs.

Call many therapists. The relationship you develop with your therapist is the most important aspect of therapy and you have a right to interview as many as you would like for this position in your life. Therapy is an interesting event where you say hello to someone for the first time and then proceed to tell them things you may have never told anyone before. This means it is important to make an informed choice about who that individual will be. Do your research, read therapist websites, talk to your physician, check in with your friends, and then reach out to all of the therapists you think might be a good fit for you. Most will offer a free intake, consultation, or will take time to answer your questions prior to booking a paid session. You can ask them anything you think is important about your work together. Here are a few suggestions to get you started: What would a first session look like? Do you see couples, individuals, kids? What is your approach to therapy? What issues do you usually work with/ Do you have experience with (your concern)? How will we let each other know when I am ready to stop or have a break from therapy? Feel free to ask them to also tell you a little about themselves if that is important to you. This conversation will not tell you everything about your therapeutic experience, but you should be able to get a sense of each person prior to committing to a session.

Do your research. If you are interested in knowing what the difference between all the mental health practitioner titles (i.e., counsellor, social worker, psychologist) take some time to Google each one and learn about their scope of practice, regulations for practice in the province of BC, and educational requirements. You can also include questions about individual professions, education, and approach to therapy in your interview of each therapist. It is important to note that if you are looking for a mental health diagnosis in this valley you will need to speak to a physician, psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, or registered psychologist. Additionally, if you are looking to talk about medication for your mental health concerns only your physician, nurse practitioner, or a psychiatrist are able to prescribe these medications.

Check your benefit plan. Unfortunately, therapy in private practice is not currently covered by provincial health care. If you have benefits through your work, call and check which type of practitioner is covered and how much financial coverage you have each year as this varies greatly across companies. If you do not have benefits do not be afraid to ask therapists if they offer discounts or a sliding scale. If they are unable to reduce their fee, they should be able to guide you towards another resource that meets your needs and fits your budget.

Employee assistance programs. Many companies have an Employee and Family Assistance Program that offers counselling sessions at no cost to you. It is a good idea to call and see what is available to you through this program if you have access to one. They often have telehealth options or online programs, but you can usually advocate to see someone in person within the valley.

Ending your therapeutic relationship. You can break up with your therapist. It is okay. It is more important that you get what you need than it is to avoiding hurting your therapist’s feelings or enduring and paying for something that is not working for you. Most therapists would be happy to refer you to another therapist as needed. And now we have many options, so this is easier. The hope is that you would also feel comfortable ending when you feel better or when it feels like the right time to do so. Therapy is not meant to last forever, and it is really important to take breaks or end when needed. If you end your therapeutic relationship you can also ask your therapist for a plan if you need a check in or want to come back in the future.

It is okay to ask for help. It is really difficult to ask for help. It places us in a vulnerable position, and it is okay to put yourself first and ask someone to support you. The most helpful therapeutic relationships tend to have a collaborative approach where you feel like you are the expert of your own life and experience and the therapist has the skills, tools, and knowledge to help you navigate resources and strategies while providing a safe space to talk. Within these relationships you are encouraged to advocate your needs and express when something is not working or if your therapist misunderstands something you express. Additionally, in many circumstances therapy does not require a weekly commitment and many people find it helpful to check in once or twice a month or a few times a year depending on your needs.

How do I find a therapist in Fernie? Talk to your physician as they can help provide suggestions for a good fit for you. Additionally, here is a list of the current services available in Fernie: Alpine Pathways Psychological Services, DHC Counselling, Fernie Counselling and Consulting, Flow Psychology, Foundational Elements, Snow Valley Counselling, Thunder Meadows, and West Fernie Counselling.

It is also important to note that there are free options for counselling in the Elk Valley including Mental Health and Addictions at Interior Health, East Kootenay Addictions Services, The Fernie Women’s Resource Centre, Child and Youth Mental Health, Columbia Basin Trust Family Resource Society, Fellaship (peer support for men), and some programs run through WorkBC.

The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician or mental health providers in your community.

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