SFU Health and Counselling Services launches online programs to support students amid pandemic

June 12, 2020

By Sarah Saghah

Following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, the team at SFU Health and Counselling Services (HCS) continues to keep students healthy by keeping its offices open while launching new online support and counselling programs.

“Creating meaningful and relevant supports involved rethinking what the needs might be during this unknown and stunning time,” says HCS Director Martin Mroz. “Staff, faculty and students are all trying to understand how this impacts our well-being. My biggest priority is to ensure access to supports as we learn, especially for people at risk.”

HCS is one of two Student Services departments that continue to keep physical office space open, despite moving most services to virtual formats. Some services, including specific physician and nursing visits, continue to be held in-person. The department’s medical office assistants also remain present at both the Burnaby and Vancouver offices to organize services and answer inquiries.

“Counselling services have remained available to all SFU students, but we've had to change the way we offer support," says Dr. Kirby Huminuik, co-associate director of counselling. "We didn't skip a beat though. The counselling team left the office one Friday and began seeing clients virtually from home the following Monday. It was a sharp learning curve, but we relied on solid guidance from our professional organizations and regulating bodies, and we are confident in our ability to support students through video and telephone sessions."

The announcement of the pandemic and the new regulations around COVID-19 posed another problem for HCS. Many of the department’s programs and events were cancelled, including Creative Collective and many animal therapy events.

“We had to pivot quickly and thoughtfully,” says Yuna Chen, acting associate director of health promotion. “Our department normally hosts about 20 programs and events over the semester, so we want to ensure that we continue to support SFU students by understanding their current needs and collaborating with other departments.”

Over the span of a month, HCS teams created new programming for students. Using Zoom videoconferencing, the department launched four new virtual events, and relaunched three continuing programs. The department continues to add new events to its roster every week.

New events hosted by HCS include the COVID-19 emotional support group, COVID-19 health information session Building Resilience & Supporting Your Well-Being, and many Creative Collective events. The counselling team has also developed a virtual ADHD and ADD workshop series to begin in mid-June.

The department will continue to adjust programming to better support SFU students during this time and beyond.

Visit Health and Counselling Services’ website for more information, resources, and a full list of programs and events.

Connecting with nature, increasing awareness

SFU News connected with Ricky Tu, Health and Counselling Services’ Transition Case Manager, and asked him about work and life post-COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: Did you learn anything new, both personally and professionally, during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: Personally, a new skill I sharpened was meditation. I decided to reconnect more with nature, as so many places and activities were closed, and it was an amazing experience. It felt great to take a break from technology and be able to engage all of my senses sitting at a park. Being able to increase my awareness of the things around me brought me a lot of joy since I often didn’t have time to do so in the past.

Professionally, a skill that I had to work harder to develop was balance. With the accessibility of work at our “fingertips”, it was hard to turn off work sometimes. It took time, but I started getting better at leaving work at work, and ensuring that I didn’t allow it to enter all aspects of my life. Meditation helped with this, as it allowed me to focus my attention better.  

Q: Will you be continuing some of the new habits you gained during COVID-19?

A: Absolutely! I hope to continue my use of meditation and mindfulness!  

Q: What are you most looking forward to once the pandemic is over?

A: I am looking forward to getting dim sum with my friends and family. It’s not so much about the food, but more about being able to connect, chat, and laugh with friends and family.