Carleton pilots online mental health service

Carleton’s Health and Counselling Services will be piloting Therapy Assisted Online (TAO)—an online self-help and mental health support program—over the course of the academic year.

The platform provides online counselling and self-help modules to students unable or unwilling to go to the university’s Health and Counselling Services, according to Michelle Baulch, a TAO counsellor and assistant manager of student success and advising. She said Carleton launched the service in late October.

According to Baulch, students requested the service and Carleton’s student mental health framework—which was updated last year—recommended online support.

“We know that not all students need face-to-face counselling so, we really wanted to make sure that we were offering different kinds of support for different kinds of needs,” she said.

The project is costing the school approximately $30,000 in addition to paying for a TAO-specific counsellor, according to Suzanne Blanchard, Carleton’s vice-president (students and enrolment).

In an email, Blanchard called it “a good investment of resources.”

According to Carleton’s website, TAO was initially developed at the University of Florida.

“TAO is based on well-researched and highly effective strategies for helping to improve mental health and promote healthy coping skills,” the website states.

One of the two platforms is self-help, where students can do different sets of modules. One module is based on managing anxiety while two others are on depression, alongside other supplementary modules. According to Baulch, students typically do one module per week.

The other platform is therapy assisted counselling, where students check in with a counsellor for 15 minutes per week through a video on the website. Baulch said she is the only TAO counsellor at Carleton right now and she has done a few counselling sessions with students already.

“The counsellor is able to see what they’ve been working on, what they took out of the modules, what challenges they have,” she said. “It’s sort of like a coaching experience just to keep people on track and to keep students motivated to keep going.”

Baulch said since the program has just started, the focus has been on promotion. Health and Counselling Services is still trying to find out how TAO fits Carleton specifically, according to her.

“We think it’s a really good resource,” she said. “We want to make sure that students know about it and I think that because we’re still in the initial stages, we don’t know yet what the challenges will be on our campus.”

Baulch noted Carleton is still determining metrics to measure the program’s effectiveness to determine if it should continue beyond the pilot year.

Photo by Aaron Hemens