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Penticton practice offers free virtual counselling for Okanagan-Similkameen residents

Penticton practice offers free virtual counselling for Okanagan-Similkameen residents

Sophie Carrigan Gray

Local Journalism Initiative

A Penticton based counselling and community resource hub is offering free virtual counselling to all residents of the South Okanagan-Similkameen region thanks to provincial grant funding.

OneSky Community Resources was approached by the Community Action Initiative, who provide provincially funded grants to community based organizations for service projects that respond to needs for mental health or substance use support. OneSky Community Resources was awarded a grant to offer region-specific virtual counselling services for free during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tanya Behardien, executive director of OneSky, said she’s very glad they were awarded this grant.

“It’s just so important right now,” said Behardien about the free virtual service. “I think this was really great of the Community Action Initiative to be so proactive in providing the services and supports.”

Behardien said one of the major benefits of the grant is the focus on virtual counselling. Video or phone therapy sessions allow OneSky to reach a wider group of people, to provide a service in rural and more remote areas where residents may not usually be able to access mental health support.

“It’s really made it more accessible for people through the region, and for our people and others not to have to travel to see someone. The platform works well,” she said.

Although Behardien herself said as a therapist, she sees a benefit to meeting in person, “some folks actually are preferring it, and it makes it easy for them to actually do the sessions.”

The free service is available to any residents of the South Okanagan-Similkameen region. Behardien was hesitant to give an exact geographic area for who can access the service, stressing it is more about helping those in need.

She said although OneSky does collect basic personal information, they will not be turning people away based on their address alone.

“I think we just want to be helpful here,” she said, noting that OneSky will help connect those out of the region to resources in their own region or provide the help needed if services are not available to them.

OneSky Community Resources has roughly six counsellors and therapists involved with the virtual counselling campaign. There is no limit to the time or number of sessions for those who take advantage of the service, which normally functions on hour long appointments.

Behardien said the grant will run out at the end of October, but OneSky is looking into options for continuing to offer free services like these.

“Because we’ve had such a good response and we know that free counselling is really challenging to come by, we are looking at other ways in which we could continue the services beyond that time frame,” said the executive director.

There is capacity for new patients in the program. Interested South Okanagan-Similkameen residents can contact OneSky Community Resources to set up a free session.

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