We all remember March 2020 — the COVID-19 pandemic took over the world, countries locked down, and feelings of stress and isolation were rampant. Many businesses and industries pivoted to the online world, and with the demand in mental health services increasing at a rapid rate, the mental health industry experienced an unprecedented wave of people requiring support.
“When COVID first hit, a lot of people were struggling, but didn’t have access to quality mental health services because it took awhile for the vast majority of therapists and counsellors to adapt to the online world,” explains Julia Imanoff, a UCalgary Faculty of Nursing doctoral candidate.
“To support people during this challenging time, my colleagues and I from the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (CAMFT) decided to start a matchmaking therapy service where couples were matched with a therapist for three free telehealth sessions with additional sessions continuing on a sliding scale. We called this initiative the Emergency Response Team.”
Little did they know, their approach would set the stage for bigger things to come.
Three 1-hour sessions not enough
The Emergency Response Team, which includes therapists Dina Bednar and Andrew Sofin, found their services to be in high demand. Unfortunately, given the level of need during the pandemic, the therapists they matched patients with reported that three sessions didn’t provide enough crisis support and that without additional funding, services couldn’t be extended.
“When we received this feedback, we realized two things,” says Imanoff. “First, the amount of time that traditional therapy takes actually creates backlogs, burnout and decreased patient satisfaction in our health-care system. Based on recent research in APA PsychNet, it’s been proven that the same therapy conducted over an indefinite amount of sessions can be just as impactful as therapy done within three sessions or less.
"So, we decided to offer professional development training for therapists to give them more resources to offer crisis services in a shorter amount of time. The success of this training led us to develop a model of care and professional training through a business we co-founded called The Brief Crisis Therapy Institute.”
As its name suggests, The Brief Crisis Therapy Institute provides high-quality clinical training in an integrative, trauma-informed, brief therapy model to help clients in crisis. A variety of therapeutic models are integrated that haven’t been connected before — including brief, solution-focused, narrative, positive psychology, trauma-informed and mindfulness — allowing the team to offer a model that is different from the often traditional, cookie-cutter models used in the mental health system.
Demand for therapy continues to be high
And while COVID-19 restrictions may have been lifted in many parts of the world, Imanoff and her team continue to see even more demand for their brief crisis therapy training services.
“We’re still seeing the impacts of COVID-19 everywhere in our health-care system,” says Imanoff. “Burnout and staff turnover are high, and even though restrictions may be lifted, people who were barely coping and getting by during the height of the pandemic are crashing now.
"The demand for support is rising because we continue to be in the midst of a mental health crisis.”
The link between brief therapy and social innovation
Imanoff says that they’ve seen a clear demand for their training, with a variety of professionals wanting to take part — from psychologists to nurses to domestic violence workers. That’s one of the reasons why the team showcased the Brief Crisis Therapy Institute at UCalgary and Innovate Calgary’s Social Innovator Celebration Event on Oct. 13.
“Social innovation offers new ways to solve really hard problems,” explains Imanoff. “While innovation has been around for a long time in nursing and mental health, these fields are constantly evolving and finding new solutions out of necessity, and the Brief Crisis Therapy Institute is one of these solutions.
"We’re at a critical turning point where we’re seeing how social innovation can help fill gaps and solve some of the really hard problems our health-care system faces. It allows us to step out of our comfort zone from traditional public sector services and challenge our way of thinking to solve problems with a multi-sectoral approach to increase client satisfaction, and reduce provider burnout and strain on our health-care system.”
Imanoff encourages anyone in the UCalgary community to visit their booth to make connections and learn about the model.
“If you think this type of training would be valuable, come and chat with us,” invites Imanoff. “The chance to make a difference in the world has been our north star as we start this new venture, and if what we’re doing helps make the world a better place, then we want to keep going. My goal is to connect with as many people as possible and help solve some of the problems our health-care system is currently experiencing.”