Self-referral program supports mental health

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Service providers are looking to raise awareness about a highly accessible program for Ontario residents 18 and older experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or trauma.

The Ontario Structured Psychotherapy (OSP) program is free and confidential – and has a relatively short waitlist – teaching practical skills and strategies to manage mental health and improve quality of life.

Emily Martin, intake screener and program promotion lead, said people may not realize there are supports out there for low mood, generalized anxiety and worry, unexpected panic attacks and agoraphobic fears, social anxiety and performance fears, concerns around obsessive-compulsive behaviour, post-traumatic stress, and other work or school related stress and anxiety.

She said it’s not so much about a diagnosis, it’s more about building better mental health and coping with difficult emotions and situations.

The program is funded by Ontario Health’s Centre of Excellence and in-person or virtual services are delivered through nearly 30 different organizations across in the Central North region of Ontario

Clients can be referred by a health care practitioner or they can self-refer. The referral process involves an initial questionnaire which is reviewed by the screening team of clinically guided and regulated staff which does a baseline assessment. Eligible clients – typically with more mild to moderate symptoms due to low mood, anxiety, worries and stress – will often get started with BounceBack, a self guided program to start building coping skills through workbooks, online videos and telephone calls with a trained coach.

Clients who have more complex symptoms may receive an in depth assessment to determine what services would best support them and may be candidates for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or if resources need to be sought elsewhere.

“We are incorporating a range of services to meet the client’s needs,” said Martin. “A client may start in a program such as BounceBack or internet based CBT, and either complete those or, if it’s felt that those services aren’t meeting their needs they would do what we call a step up to be assessed or automatically enrol in some additional structured psychotherapy services.”

Martin describes structured psychotherapy as a short-term highly structured form of therapy, usually eight to 12 sessions, that focusses on a primary issue identified by the client and how to understand and challenge negative thinking or behaviour patterns to overcome them by understanding the process and the function of those automatic negative thoughts and how that causes someone to have specific emotions, behaviour and sometimes physiological reactions. From there, using tools to navigate exposure to certain situations without triggering those automatic thoughts and reactions through exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring, guided discovery, journaling, and behavioural experiences.

There is no waitlist for the BounceBack program or internet based CBT after the initial screening. For structured psychotherapy, there is a waitlist currently ranging from four to eight weeks.

Services are available in French and English, and interpreters are used when needed.

Also specific to the region is the Minookmii program, in partnership with Indigenous service providers, offering culturally relevant support and connections to other Indigenous health services and traditional healers for the treatments to cope with depression, anxiety, stress, intergenerational trauma, and emotional, psychological and spiritual distress.

For more information or to self-refer to the program, visit and_services. Email or call 1-877-341-4729 ext 2883. Waitlist updates and other information is posted on social media, including and @ontariopsychotherapy on Instagram.

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