Walk-in therapy clinics more effective than traditional counselling sessions, study finds

A study by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University looked at how walk-in therapy clinics benefited people seeking help through KW Counselling Services more than traditional appointments.

Men more likely to attend day-of sessions, research shows

A new study from researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo has found walk-in therapy clinics are more effective at helping people work through their problems than traditional sessions. The researchers based their study on information gathered from people accessing help through KW Counselling Services. (iStock)

A new study from local Waterloo, Ont.-based researchers has found walk-in therapy clinics help a person feel better more quickly and reach a larger client base than traditional appointments.

It is the first study anywhere in the world of adults that compares the two methods of providing therapy.

"Clients told us anecdotally they liked it, our hunch was we were on to something, but I had no evidence of that," Leslie Josling of KW Counselling Services told CBC News Wednesday.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University used information gathered from people seeking help through KW Counselling Services. The study, which was published in the December issue of The Journal of Mental Health, followed 532 participants over the age of 16. They were given a questionnaire at the beginning of the study, then researchers followed up with them two times.

The participants were separated into two groups - one group went to a walk-in session, while the other attended a traditional therapy session.

At a four-week follow-up, those who had attended a walk-in session were more likely to have reported their mental health was improved and they were less distressed, the researchers found. At 10 weeks, both groups had improved and reported similar results.

Study results surprise

The results may seem obvious - that people who need help do better when they receive that help immediately - but Josling said no previous research had been done on the topic before anywhere in the world.

And there were a few surprises.

"I don't think we expected to see such a big difference between the traditional group and the control group at that four-week mark. We were delighted with that," Josling said. "We had no clue that folks with complex trauma were doing so much better at walk-in than they were at the traditional counselling setting."

Complex trauma can include people coping with abuse, psychological trauma, serious mental illness or child welfare concerns, study author Carol Stalker said in a release about the study.

Stalker said the researchers are planning to release more of their research looking at complex trauma clients as well as why clients valued the accessibility of the walk-in model.

Men more likely to seek help

The study also found men were much more likely to seek out counselling if they could attend a walk-in clinic.

"We've struggled for years with the fact that men don't come to traditional counselling," Josling said, noting research has shown that men's inability to ask for help affects their mortality.

"It's very, very exciting to see that almost half of our visitors are male, where in traditional counselling it's 37 per cent. That means we're reaching a whole population that we've never seen in traditional counselling before," she said.

Help in a single session

Many clients will only go to therapy once — even when attending a traditional session — so the walk-ins are structured to get the most out of it, Josling said.

The speed of being seen was something participants mentioned in their surveys.

One of the participants who attended a traditional appointment said the wait was too long and, in turn, the session unhelpful.

"I waited quite a long time, by the time I got in to see somebody, I felt like I didn't really need it anymore," the person wrote. They did attend their session, but said there wasn't anything particular bothering them at that point and they were worried about child care.

I think ideally, this would be open every day of the week.- Leslie Josling , executive director KW Counselling Services

"It was nice to go and chat. I would have really benefited from it if I had gotten it when I needed it," the person wrote.

Another participant who went to the walk-in clinic said they appreciated being able to discuss their issue immediately.

"When you have these things on your mind, you kind of want to get it off right away," the person wrote.

Need funding for more clinics

Walk-in therapy clinics are relatively new. KW Counselling Services only started offering the service in 2007 and they are just now starting to grow in popularity around the globe, Josling said.

Currently they offer help between noon and 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, and would like to expand and offer another day, but Josling said it is not feasible due to financial constraints.

"We are deeply committed as an agency and my board to opening a second day. Our problem is at this point, we have no funding to do it with," she said.

"I think ideally, this would be open every day of the week."


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