Desert Sun brings virtual counselling to clients

Desert Sun brings virtual counselling to clients

Desert Sun executive director Marieze Tarr has made virtual (and telephone) counselling available to clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Richard McGuire file photo)

Sophie Gray

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Desert Sun Counselling Centre has closed its doors to the public, heeding advice to stay home, but with a constant stream of stressful news about the COVID-19 pandemic, mass lay-offs and closed schools, their services are in high demand.

So executive director Marieze Tarr said Desert Sun has moved to virtual and telephone counselling to meet the needs of the community.

The transition to virtual services happened quickly over the last week, and presents unique challenges for counsellors in particular.

“It’s a little bit more difficult to collaborate with other staff members and we work quite closely as a team so that has proved a little bit challenging,” said Tarr.

She said moving all of the staff’s equipment, files, security and confidentiality, while making sure that staff understand cyber policies and how to keep information confidential and safe is a unique challenge.

“That is hard for our clients too because it’s just been a huge change for everyone and I think it’s just hard for everyone to get used to,” said Tarr. “We’re just getting used to the new way.”

The “new way” also involves a number of services the centre provides for children who, Tarr said, don’t respond as well to virtual or telephone counselling as others. Desert Sun’s programs for children use a lot of play and art therapy, which poses a challenge when sessions can’t be conducted in person, said Tarr.

But despite these challenges, the resource centre is coming up with innovative ways to continue servicing the Osoyoos community. They are looking at offering a virtual kitchen, providing low-budget recipes and grocery lists and check-ins before and after by the centre’s kitchen coordinator. They also plan to ramp up their social media presence, providing tips on managing during this stressful time and activities to keep children busy once Spring Break is over. 

“It’s kind of evolving and changing as things have progressed,” said Tarr in regards to the programs and support Desert Sun plans to offer. “We know that for a lot of people next week will be when reality will really set in. That’s then the week that we’re really going to be starting to have a bigger social media presence and put a lot of tips on our social media.”

Tarr said Desert Sun is lucky because most of their clients have been with them for a while, so they are comfortable with moving to virtual counselling, and many of the counsellors already have experience in this area. But she does expect to see an increase of clients the longer this new reality continues, as issues like domestic violence and family dysfunctions are highlighted from spending so much time in close quarters.

“Our waitlist has just been down to zero, so we’ve really tried to make our organization efficient and people get in to see our counsellors quickly. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be looking at a wait list moving forward for the rest of the year,” said Tarr. “But we’ll just deal with things as it comes.”