Empathy Through Virtual Reality

Posted by: Sherry Law on September 22, 2015 12:51 pm


As a virtual reality (VR) enthusiast, I have seen first hand demonstrations which encourage empathy. Computer graphics is sophisticated enough where facial expressions of avatars are believable, and if you pay attention to video games which focus on story/narrative, then you can see that context of avatars can be deep, meaningful, and nuanced, reflecting real people and real situations. These characters and their stories can be powerful enough to elicit deep emotions, not unlike how poetry or song can. However, because VR includes visual, audio, and contextual stimulus, the emotions rely less on interpretation, and instead are directly administered through the story telling and the expressiveness of the characters and environment which surround the observer.

Empathy, the ability to understand or share the feelings of others, is a powerful tool that all therapists employ. As a skill, it serves to help therapists navigate through the challenges that a client may be facing. Empathy is critical in client care for its ability to create a therapeutic alliance bound by understanding. Not only can empathy directly impact the therapeutic relationship, it can impact a therapist’s practice by reducing bias, prejudice, and conflict within the therapist from which they can develop and improve their practice. Due to the importance of this skill, developing empathy is a significant focus for many health professionals. Traditional ways of developing therapeutic skills include workshops, conferences, lectures, reading, and field experience. Although these methods have been invaluable and cannot be replaced, what VR could offer in the future is a streamlined, safe, and efficient way to learn and practice therapeutic skills, but also to tinker with our social interactions in a digital vacuum.

Once computer graphics, story-telling, and VR merge, you can have in the palm of your hands a powerful experience that is convincing on a human level. Imagine the avatars reacting to your movements, and paying attention to your actions and reactions to them. Imagine the avatars being able to express without even speaking, simply by using their facial expressions. Imagine having text boxes popping up to explain the reaction of the avatar and why they may have occurred, and more importantly, what you have done to contribute to such a response. What VR can provide is the isolation of these human expressions and an interactive environment from which to build empathy and tinker with social behaviour in a safe and insulated way.

As a practicing counsellor, I can see immense benefits in being able to interact with an avatar to test therapeutic methods. Given some context, how will the avatar react if I did this, said that, or looked away? Of course, the reactions of the avatar rely solely on the ability of the programmer to predict how a human would respond. Once health professionals become part of the development for these programs and experiences, much more can be expected of them.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA


Posted by: Sherry Law on August 25, 2015 5:00 am


In one of my previous posts I mentioned a phenomenon called presence, which is a potent experience capable of convincing a person that they occupy a place which they do not exist physically. This experience is difficult to describe but is the quintessential point I, and other researchers in the field of virtual reality, believe the technological and the therapeutic intersect. This post will attempt to explain how presence is achieved and how it can be therapeutic.

Presence, in terms of artistic experience, is also called immersion, explained by philosopher, Samuel Coleridge, as a “suspension of disbelief”. This experience can occur in any medium, such as a good book, or a tv show. If you can imagine a quiet evening with a book where an exciting story can make you forget that you have been turning the page for hours. This is an example of immersion. You feel as though you are a visitor to the story, or a witness to the events unfolding in your minds eye. What virtual reality (VR) accomplishes is immersion but replacing the minds eye with direct visual input. Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Payment Options for Counsellors

Posted by: Shelley Skelton on August 2, 2015 3:30 pm


How do you plan to receive payment from your clients? Are you collecting payment yourself or will there be a receptionist doing that for you? Do you have third party payment? Will you be mobile or in one location? Will any of your counselling be online? All of these answers will help determine which option is best for you. I will share what I have learned about payment options and how I made my decisions. Two very useful online articles are listed at the bottom.

So, there seems to be four basic payment options: cash, cheque, credit, or debit. Each have benefits and disadvantages, depending on your answers from above. These are my thoughts based on my single person, mobile, face-to-face private practice.

  • Considering how much a counselling session can cost, cash does not seem like the best option because I am the holder of the payment and I wouldn’t want to have a lot of cash in the office. If the client is not paying the full amount, however, this could be a hassle-free way to be paid.
  • Cheques seem like a good option assuming they don’t bounce but the bank usually holds them for a few days before they can be accessed. Also, I don’t know how many people use cheques anymore. I wouldn’t make this the only option, but I see few disadvantages to accepting cheques.
  • Debit does not cost anything to accept, so in that way it is preferable to credit, although some online payment systems such as Paypal do not include debit. I like debit, although I could not find any debit options that did not also include credit.
  • Credit costs the counsellor money (somewhere around 2.75%), however, it is very convenient for everyone. Also, there are a number of ways to receive payment through credit: a point of sale system like the square, a mobile card processor, a credit card terminal if you are in one location, and online payment like Paypal. I like this option because the fee transfer happens right away.

My plan is to accept cheques and cash while encouraging credit or debit. For credit options, I narrowed my top two choices to the Square or Moneris because I wanted the transaction to be face to face (rather than e-transfers or Paypal). Even though Moneris has a monthly fee, I chose it over the Square for a few reasons. First, Moneris has been around longer and has a strong track record for customer service. Second, this service has a relationship with my bank (RBC) and a person in my city who has already talked to me on the phone – how often does that happen these days? , Third, I can accept debit or credit with Moneris. The Square only takes credit. If you are curious about online payment systems, you can visit the two articles I listed below; I found both very informative.

This decision about payment options is an important one to make and you would be wise to do so before opening your business bank account because there are a number of different types of accounts based on how your receive payment. I found it very helpful to speak with a business account manager at my bank in order to sort out all of these options. If anyone has opinions or insights about payment options, please leave a comment and share with our readers.

Lindzon , J. (2014, Nov. 14). Top five online payment systems for your small business. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-money/cash-flow/top-five-online-payment-systems-for-your-small-business/article21553705/

Purch. (2015, June 11). Square Review: Best Mobile Credit Card Processing Solution. Business News Daily. Retrieved from http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/8064-best-mobile-credit-card-processor.html

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Technology is Expanding a Counsellor’s Toolbox

Posted by: Sherry Law on July 22, 2015 9:37 am

I recently spent some time with a colleague and the idea of video conference counselling came up. Both being technology buffs, we dove right into the idea without hesitation. As we discussed, it became clear to me that there were real ethical arguments to support the idea of integrating technology with therapy. Unfortunately, the fears around the little known realm of technology in counselling creates a demanding barrier of entry, stifling enthusiasm to attempt online therapeutic practice. Hoping to fan some burning embers of excitement, I present three ethical considerations for the use of technology in counselling:

Financial Access

Cost has always been a struggle for people who need mental health assistance. Both the direct cost per session as well as indirect costs can affect people’s budgets, adding pressures to the decline of one’s mental health. For example, taking time off work or out of the day may not always be feasible for people, especially if you have children to take care of, and during a contracting economy where every day matters in the eyes of your employer. The struggle to balance self care, and life responsibilities is very real. Online counselling could reduce the cost of office space rental, parking space rental, and utilities in the office. The savings from such a transition could help to increase access for some clients.

Physical Access

Physical access can be limited due to a person’s living arrangements, or life circumstance. Many people cannot afford a convenient mode of transportation to attend a counselling session. For example, in rural areas, the problem can worsen with some people having to depend on the therapist’s mode of transportation into their area before they can acquire mental health services. The dependency could lead to spotty access at best, and an inconsistent therapeutic relationship at worst. For counsellors working within a rural area, a plethora of other ethical concerns can arise, such as multiple relationships, limits on resources, isolation, and community expectations. Online counselling could not only offer larger variety of therapists for the rural clientele who can specialize, but can subdue altogether some of the ethical issues around rural therapeutic practices.

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

An Online Summer Reading List

Posted by: Dawn Schell on July 14, 2015 2:36 pm

tablet-690032_640I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Summer is the perfect time for catching up on all that reading you intended to do in the fall and winter.   A time to curl up on the nearest deck chair and luxuriate in reading.

What’s on my list this summer?

Well, for starters – the entire issue of the British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, Volume 43, Issue 1, which was published in January 2015.

The editors, Goss and Hooley, say this issue on Online Practice in Counselling and Guidance,  “looks at the impact of the online environment on the practice of guidance, counselling, psychotherapy and related services…. it explores…ongoing (technological) changes and in places looks forward to ways in which the future development of the disciplines might be influenced by current technological trends”.

Written from several different perspectives I can see it will be a very thought provoking read.   Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

FaceTime – Eww!

Posted by: Dawn Schell on July 9, 2015 12:00 pm

While some of us are happily embracing every form of social media and software that allows us to communicate with others (e.g. FaceTime and Skype), others are staying as far away from it all as possible. It’s not because they are Luddites who want to avoid the use of technology; it seems to be more about personality type.

The other day a friend told me she had given up her landline. “I thought having a cell phone would be liberating. No more having to be in one place. I can talk anywhere I want. I can be outside going for a walk. I thought it would be great.   But you know what? I don’t actually like talking on the phone. I never have.” She shuddered. “I feel like I have to have my phone with me but I don’t actually want anyone to call me.” I noticed her cell phone was nowhere in sight.
iphone-410311_640It wasn’t just that she didn’t want to answer the phone. She has taken to avoiding FaceTime and Skype as well. Family members and friends who live at a distance use both as a way to keep in touch. Getting an unexpected call, she said, is stressful. If a call comes in she will politely hand it over to her children.

While she uses social networking sites she also keeps those to a minimum. To use Myers-Briggs language, my friend is someone with a strong preference for Introversion and finds all of these methods of communicating overwhelming at times.
Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

A New Online Support Group

Posted by: Farah Lodi on June 12, 2015 2:59 pm

My last post was about the importance of emotional support, especially for those who leave their country of origin (http://www.ccpa-accp.ca/blog/?p=4188). Usually family and close friends are the first people we lean on or turn to for advice. Anxiety and depression can be soothed by talking to loved ones, but when people have geographic distance from their support networks, life problems can be hard to manage and anxiety and depression can spiral.

To help people who have no help, I’ve created a new online support website: Supportseekers.info. This is an interactive forum where members can post any mental or emotional health problem, and get feedback from other members who may have faced a similar situation. Maybe you’ve been struggling with a situation for some time, and need advice, encouragement or clarity? Maybe you are stressed and overwhelmed? This website is especially useful for people who lack an emotional support network. There are two separate forums, one for adolescents and ansupportseekerother for adults. Sometimes youngsters respond better to their peers, and of course all members use anonymous user- ids. The most useful part is that each day a moderator who is a professional psychologist will go online and offer guidance to each poster – so in effect it’s free counselling therapy. The psychologist moderators are all trained in cross-cultural sensitivity with a solution-focused CBT approach. So no matter what your ethnicity or background, you will get balanced feedback from a non-judgmental professional (as well as from other members who may have life-experience to share). In addition there’s a “support library” which will give members the latest information on mental health awareness issues.

This community service doesn’t replace face-to-face therapy, and it’s not a forum for crisis situations, but it’s an option for those out there who (for whatever reason) don’t have access to emotional support. It’s completely free. All you have to do is join. I invite everyone who reads this, to log onto supportseekers.info, and become a member. You can post your problem anonymously and get same-day advice from your peers, as well as a free professional opinion. And you can help another member by offering your support. Who doesn’t need a bit of emotional help and support these days?

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Being Digitally Aware

Posted by: Dawn Schell on June 10, 2015 2:03 pm

You have a Facebook page designed for your professional practice. You notice that one of the followers is a current client. They post many comments that identify themselves as your client. How would you handle this?social-media-488886_640

In this day and age of social networking this is an increasingly likely scenario. And if we are to be good digital citizens and demonstrate our e-professionalism we need to think about how to handle social media ethically.

What are the options for handling the above-mentioned situation ethically while working to maintain the relationship with the client?  We could ‘block’ our client but what are the implications of that action for our relationship? Or would it draw even more attention to them? Do we post something publicly that addresses the client’s comments? Or..?

Our CCPA Code of Ethics (B 2) states, “Counselling relationships and information resulting therefrom are kept confidential.”

Hmm. How to preserve the client’s confidentiality and actually put a stop to the situation?

There is no easy answer for how to resolve this scenario!
Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Happy Birthday to Us!

Posted by: Dawn Schell on June 3, 2015 8:46 am

50. The CCPA is 50 years old!

Imagine all that has changed since 1965…

Vehicles, medical breakthroughs, space exploration, job titles, prices, environmental concerns, clothing styles (though some of them keep coming back!), phones, computers, technology, the Internet…to name a few.


Attitudes towards counselling have changed. Not to mention where and how counselling takes place.  Mental health and wellbeing is an increasingly important conversation in workplaces and communities.

Yup. A lot has changed.

And now imagine all that hasn’t changed ….

Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Is There an App for Mental Health?

Posted by: Sherry Law on May 6, 2015 8:00 am

As Canadians, one system that distinguishes us from other nations is our universal health care provision. Canada invests in its people, taking care of the sick or wounded displaying our values of equity and solidarity. Though our heart may be in the right place, the road to equitable provision of all facets of health care is difficult and complicated, with financial, political, and social barriers leaving many Canadians underserviced. In 2012, Statistics Canada revealed that 1.6million Canadians requiring mental health services found that help was unavailable or insufficient. A majority of this demographic indicated that failure of the health care system was due to budget cuts or lack of accessibility, or personal circumstances such as social stigma and scheduling conflicts.LawPost

As counsellors and therapists, we wish that all Canadians can access sufficient mental health services, but how can we satisfy the great demand of mental health needs when there are so many kinks in the system?

Information technology (IT) has captured every aspect of daily life. Shopping, banking, networking, research, and a multitude of other activities can be done online. Due to its ease of access, portability, and shrinking barrier of entry, people from all walks of life and social economic backgrounds can access these resources. Furthermore, IT has pushed the boundaries in all fields, leading to a global change in business, governance, and communication. Continue reading

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA