October 21st, 2020

Digital therapy may assist students

By Bobinec, Greg on December 9, 2019.

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald


A new digital therapy platform introduced at the University of Lethbridge is set to enhance mental-health services for students, making behavioral therapy more accessible, efficient and effective.

Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) Connect, gives students access to an app providing behavioral health tools on the go, in addition to in-person sessions with U of L Counselling and Career Services. TAO technology is able to be used in two ways: therapists at the counselling centre can individually assign TAO to students as a way to supplement in-person sessions, or students can enrol in the program and download the app for a completely self-guided experience outside of the counselling centre.

“A huge benefit of this platform is that it broadens our reach in terms of being able to provide support to a larger number of students, some of whom are not ready to seek professional help or like to access supports in other modalities,” says Jennifer Ellis-Toddington, manager of Counselling and Career Services at the U of L.

“Another benefit is the self-check component in the app where students can check on their own mental health and, if indicated, that can move them towards getting professional help.”

Students who utilize TAO Connect will have access to a suite of digital behavioral health tools, and also have the option to use the technology in tandem with a U of L counsellor. This will allow for the students to diligently practise the skills and techniques they learn through their counselling session, on their own time.

“It was really just conversations about how we can continue to best meet the mental-health needs of the students on campus,” says Mark Slomp, executive director of Student Services.

“My favourite part of this is the collaboration that led to us getting together around a common concern, which is student well-being, and partnering to figure out how we can continue to do our best to address that.”

Andrew Gammack, ULSU president, says the new platform would meet the students in their own space, anonymously, and is backed by evidence-based practices.

“Not everyone is in a position to approach counselling,” says Gammack. “A ULSU core value is accessibility and we wanted to make sure that there were more services on campus to help those who maybe don’t feel quite as comfortable coming forward to counselling services.

“I interact with a lot of students who can identify these issues. I really appreciate this service and the science behind it.”

The program includes high quality, interactive and educational modules in structured programs, along with a companion app with daily practice tools. TAO’s screening measures can help someone choose the best program for them, and TAO’s progress measure help track improvement. The anonymous self-screening tool combines five different tests for depression, alcohol and drug problems, anxiety, trauma and chronic pain. Once screened, the user will either be given links to access the appropriate self-help tools, or suggestions to see a health professional.

“We’re really eager to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to student mental health on campus, recognizing that students will have very different needs and like to access services and supports in different ways,” says Gammack. “We want to make sure we have all kinds of services and tools so we can best meet the needs of all students.”

TAO Connect is available for free to all U of L students by using their U of L email address to register. They can access the platform on the Counselling and Career Services website, or on the Students’ Union website. For more information about TAO, visit TAOConnect.org.

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