Virtual therapy now available to Ontario residents

by Leo Almazora16 Jun 2017
Virtual therapy is not new in Ontario. For more than five years, Barrie residents have been able to get virtual counselling at three offices in the city through the Ontario Telemedicine Network.

But according to Barrie Today, a company called TranQool is letting residents get that help in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Based in Toronto, TranQool is an online counselling platform that currently serves people across Ontario. Patients are offered one-on-one, 45-minute video therapy sessions with licensed therapists. Sessions can also be scheduled outside of business hours.

“We connect people with psychologists and clinical social workers … using a secure video call,” said co-founder and CEO Chakameh Shafii. “This is not Skype. It’s encrypted.”

Shafii realized the need for the service in 2016, when she struggled with anxiety. “I was a high achiever, type-A personality where everyone would say ‘You’ve got everything in life. There’s no way you have anxiety,’” she told Barrie Today.

She went to two different therapists before she found the right one, but by that time her benefit package had run out. Cognitive behavioural therapy helped her learn to cope, and she started encouraging others to seek help.

“People kept giving me the exact same answers: ‘I can’t afford it,’” she said. “And people who could afford it were like ‘I don’t have the time to go find a therapist and leave work early to see them’ … So I thought, what if they could do it on video?”

Over 3,000 Ontarians, including people from Barrie, have gotten access to the platform since it launched just over a year ago.

“More people need access to health care,” said Jessica Tulk, ‎telemedicine coordinator at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Simcoe County. “[Y]ou don’t often find publicly-funded therapy that’s easily accessible … But if you have benefits or are able to pay for this, I think it’s fantastic.”

Around 1 in 5 Canadians deal with a mental health problem every year. In Barrie, Telemedicine Ontario offers 900 patients a year services ranging from psychological consults to follow-ups for organ transplants. These telemedicine sessions are covered under the Ontario Health insurance Plan (OHIP).

At $80 per session, TranQool said its service is less expensive than in-person therapy, which can cost more than $120 per session. The service is also convenient, with the sign-up process taking around five minutes. Twenty-four hours after that, users should be able to have a session from anywhere.

“There’s no wait list as a lot of people are experiencing in our current system,” Shafii said. “For hospitals, it’s up to six months before you can see a social worker. Even in private practice, it would be a wait of couple of weeks.”

The TranQool website indicates the types of issues that the company’s therapists can deal with. It clarifies that TranQool is not a crisis platform.


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