New Brunswick

Online therapy project for first responders expands to N.B.

First responders in New Brunswick will get the chance to receive online cognitive behavioural therapy instruction as part of a program headed by the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment at the University of Regina.

Province spending $150K on pilot project offering cognitive behavioural therapy instruction

A pilot project will connect first-responders in New Brunswick to online instructions in cognitive behavioural therapy provided by researchers at the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

The New Brunswick government says it's launching a two-year pilot project that will give first responders free access to online instruction in cognitive behavioural therapy.

CBT teaches people how to manage negative thoughts and recognize behaviours that contribute to anxiety or depression. 

The program, called PSP Net, was developed by the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment at the University of Regina.

"One of the core ways of thinking about CBT is that what we think impacts how we feel and what we do," said psychologist Luke Schneider, one of the institute's e-therapists.

"If we start to tell ourselves really negative things about the world around us, we can start to develop symptoms like depression."

"Or, we can feel very anxious and that can often affect our behaviour including pulling away from friends and family."

A man poses in front of a brick wall
Public safety employees who want to take the PSP NET program do not require a diagnosis to participate, says clinical research associate Luke Schneider. (Submitted by Luke Schneider)

Schneider says the program is well-suited to people who work shifts because there's no fixed schedule. 

A person can choose when to log in, and do so from any location where they have access to the internet. 

The program's main focus is the coursework. Users should not expect a weekly virtual hour of counselling

However, they can send messages to a therapist through a secure messaging system and expect to get a response by phone or email once or twice a week. 

There's no need for a referral or a diagnosis to participate. 

"We don't have any symptom minimums," said Schneider. 

"As long as somebody is saying, 'I'm interested in learning these skills. I'm starting to struggle,' they can participate."

There's also no reporting back to the employer, says Schneider, because the program is operating as a standalone, based out of the University of Regina.

"We don't go and tell a person's commanding officer or anyone in their unit that they're participating," he said.

"We're not beholden to give that information."

In New Brunswick, the program will be offered free to current and former first responders and public safety personnel.

That includes border service workers, correctional workers, and career and volunteer firefighters. 

It's also open to the police, 911 operators, search and rescue crew and paramedics. 

The Paramedic Association of New Brunswick says it welcomes help for mental health. 

Executive director Chris Hood says people are affected by different experiences in different ways and sometimes, it's the accumulation of stresses that have a negative impact. 

Chris Hood, executive director of the Paramedics Association of New Brunswick, said the association welcomes extra help when it comes to mental health services. (Jon Collicott/CBC)

One of the ongoing stresses, he says, is having to wait at the hospital for patients to be taken into hospital care. 

They're called offloading delays.

Recently, Hood heard from two paramedics who took a patient to hospital half-way through their 12-hour shift.

They were relieved by the night crew and 12 hours later, when they came back, that same patient was still waiting. 

Hood says it impacts morale and emotional well-being when people in health-care fields try to advocate for things that are not available in the system. 

'It wears on the psyche," he says. 

And he thinks health care still needs a lot of reform to relieve that pressure.

In 2019, the federal government pledged to do better for first responders, whose work exposed them to tough and traumatic events.

PSP NET then got funding out of Ottawa's national Action Plan on Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries.

The program has been available in Saskatchewan and Quebec since 2019 and has only just expanded into the Maritimes.

The New Brunswick pilot is getting $150,000 from the province and funding from Public Safety Canada and Medavie.