Impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on counselling with low-income clients

Brown, Jason D. | $52,083

Ontario Western University (The University of Western Ontario) 2021 SSHRC

COVID‑19 disproportionately affects members of disadvantaged groups (Choi, et al., 2021). Individuals with low income experience an increased risk of contagion and severity of illness. High financial distress levels contribute to an increased frequency of mental health challenges (Prosper Canada, 2021). However, there is little information about practices helpful to low-income clients in the COVID era (APA, 2019).

The aftermath of COVID‑19 will present challenges and opportunities for counselling. Counsellors will need to reconsider existing frameworks and approaches in the context of increasing social inequities (Maestripieri, 2021) and socioeconomic disadvantage (Marmot & Allen, 2020). They may also leverage their own personal exposure to health risks and financial uncertainty, as well as shared experiences of grief and isolation, to connect with clients (Vostanis & Bell, 2020).

This study will examine helpful aspects of counselling from the perspectives of counsellors and clients living with low income. Using Concept Mapping, participants will identify helpful aspects of counselling and organize them into concepts. In the first year of funding, we will survey a national sample of counsellors about the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on accessibility to counselling services. In year two, we will conduct in-depth interviews with 90 counsellors and 90 low-income clients. In year three, we will compare clients’ and counsellors’ perspectives on helpful practices. These results will form the basis of survey questions to be administered to 900 counsellors in year four.

Results will identify: (1) the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic on access to counselling across client groups, (2) what counsellors identify as helpful aspects of counselling with low-income clients, (3) what low-income clients identify as helpful aspects of counselling, and (4) which helpful aspects of counselling from clients’ perspectives are associated with counsellors’ social locations as well as cultural and intersectional awareness.

Findings will contribute to professional practice, scholarly literature, and advocacy efforts. The Executive of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) has endorsed the study. CCPA will contribute in-kind support for the dissemination of results within the Association. Findings will provide baseline data to assess the impact of a national initiative with the CCPA to identify promising practices and explore group differences such as regional variations to offer targeted resources and professional development activities for its members.

Results will contribute to the counselling literature on diversity, reflective practice, counsellor competencies, and practice approaches with clients facing significant barriers. In addition to identifying the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on access to counselling for different client groups, the results will highlight the needs of clients living with low income from their perspective. In addition, relationships between counsellors’ social location, cultural awareness, and perceptions of helpful aspects of counselling practice will contribute to the existing scholarship in the area.

Professional groups can use the study’s results to advocate for new or improved public services that meet the needs of clients living with low income. Community organizations can use the findings to support proposals that create, enhance and evaluate counselling services to individuals living with low income. Finally, educators can use the findings to increase students’ personal and social awareness of low income and ways to be responsive as practitioners.

Avec un financement du Gouvernement du Canada

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