B.C. counsellors say lack of professional oversight blocks refugees’ access to their services

March 1, 2017

By Nick Eagland, Vancouver Sun |

Traumatized refugees fleeing war-torn countries are struggling to access crucial mental-health services upon arriving in B.C., say counsellors and settlement groups who support them.

The problem stems from a lack of provincial regulation for counsellors in B.C., which means refugees can’t get coverage that should be available to them under the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP), according to The Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C. (FACTBC). FACTBC is a group of counselling member associations pushing for the establishment of a B.C. College of Counselling Therapists.

Under the IFHP, refugees are entitled to 10 sessions with a psychologist, psychotherapist or counselling therapist within a year of arrival.

But in order to serve IFHP clients, practitioners must be approved to practice by a provincial or territorial licensing body recognized by the Medavie Blue Cross.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokeswoman Nancy Chan confirmed in an email that providers must be registered or licensed in the province or territory.

“As there is no licensing body for counselling therapists in British Columbia, there are no counselling therapists in the province who are eligible to seek reimbursement for treating IFHP beneficiaries,” Chan said.

“The same level of coverage that is available in other provinces would be possible if British Columbia had a licensing body.”

Glen Grigg, chair of FACTBC and a registered clinical counsellor, believes it is reasonable for the federal government to consider the professional standards of those who provide a service to refugees under the IFHP.

But “because of that gap in the provincial infrastructure, these people don’t have access to that service — even though the federal government would pay for it,” he said.

“The 5,000 people we represent, who do have a great deal of cultural competence and language skills, are left out.”

Carolyn Fast, executive director of the B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors, said some B.C. counsellors volunteer their services to refugees but the inability to access federal funding “really limits, I think, the full service that you can provide.”

Fast, who is part of a working group co-ordinating health needs for refugees in Victoria, said refugees have challenges with resettling, culture and language, along with various traumas.

“The ability to provide the mental-health supports that the newcomers need to really integrate well into our society has been very challenging to manage,” she said.

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