Calgary Counselling Centre (CCC) serves some 12,000 clients per year, averaging 35,600 hours of counselling sessions as it helps individuals, families, and groups develop the skills they need to thrive. In business for about 60 years, CCC also provides 80 students each year with the leading-edge research, education, and training opportunities they need to become the next generation of counsellors.
CCC delivers unparalleled results, but is always looking for the most effective and efficient way to help clients. It uses outcome measurement and tracks client progress at every session, and its pre-pandemic client outcomes outperformed the published benchmark by 37 per cent. But in light of changed work practices forced by the pandemic, CCC had been experimenting with technologies for remote audio and video communications to broaden its counselling options. When in-office consultations were ruled out, staff already had ideas for best practices that could help keep services available, especially in light of heightened demand during these difficult times. The organization needed a secure solution that was easy for clients and counsellors from all cultural and economic backgrounds to use.
CCC decided to standardize on Microsoft Teams, making the solution available to administrative staff and all 65 in-house and student counsellors. “We migrated everybody into Teams and rolled it out within 36 hours,” says Chief Information Officer Neil Wagner. The rollout went very smoothly; counsellors booked appointments online, clients clicked provided links, and sessions took place in the browser without the need for additional software installation. Those who needed technical help received it very quickly, and counsellors themselves soon gained the confidence to help fix any issues: “I would say probably three quarters of the sessions were no problem. We just had to teach our counsellors enough so that they could be the tech support people for their clients,” adds Wagner. More recently, CCC added voice features (PSTN), rounding out the solution with Calling for Microsoft Teams to provide a seamless, unified communications experience for everyone at the Centre.
To date, more than 45,000 virtual counselling sessions have been successfully completed using Teams. For clients, the online meeting experience is not the same as its conventional in-office counterpart, but CCC data has shown it to be equally if not more effective. CCC has always conducted rigorous results and performance analysis, and CEO Dr. Robbie Babins-Wagner discovered that online consultations have actually provided a boost to counsellors’ effectiveness, creating better outcomes for clients. “Clients last year shared more mental health distress than people in the pre-pandemic time. With online counselling using Teams, their outcomes were equal, if not better than during pre-pandemic times or in-person care. So, we’re now doing online care by choice,” she says.
It was critical that CCC maintained its clients’ privacy on the new platform. Wagner insisted that security was paramount, and one of the main reasons Teams stood out from the other available technologies. In fact, he says emphatically, it may have been three of the reasons: “We could only select one solution for virtual communications, Teams was by far the best fit. And security, security, security!“ Dr. Babins-Wagner added that security and privacy are fundamental principles in counselling, particularly so at CCC. “I think the counsellors needed to have full confidence in the security of Teams—joining, during, and leaving a call. That’s what they’re grilled in. ‘How are we going to do this securely?’”
CCC now considers Teams a key tool in its counselling and education practice for collaboration among staff and students. After an easy deployment, the organization saw quick benefits in simplified management and swift adoption. Beyond face-to-face client sessions, Dr. Babins-Wagner notes she uses Teams Planner and sharing features to work with external partners and internal colleagues alike. And students get more secure, straightforward meetings and document sharing with their supervisors. Dr. Babins-Wagner thinks the CCC experience with Teams has made it a permanent part of future operations—it’s an effective, efficient way to reach more clients and achieve even better results in pursuit of the Centre’s mission. “We’re going to give clients a choice about whether they want to receive their services virtually or in person. And I expect that the majority of clients are going to want to do it virtually.”