New Dalhousie clinic serves people who can't afford to pay for mental health therapy

From left, Brian Comer, minister responsible for the Office of Mental Health and Addictions, Dr. Shannon Johnson, clinic co-director, Chuck Macdonald, Dalhousie dean of science and Patrick Hickey, a clinical psychology PhD student. They attended the official opening of  Dalhousie Centre for Psychological Health on Tuesday. (Celina Aalders - image credit)

Graduate students in Dalhousie University's clinical psychology program are providing free mental health care to people in Nova Scotia through a new training clinic.

The Dalhousie Centre for Psychological Health officially opened Tuesday, although the first patients started arriving in June.

Patients are referred to the clinic by community organizations and local health clinics, and its services will be free.

The centre is part of provincial government's plan to provide universal mental health and addictions services. It will spend $4.5 million dollars over three years to fund the centre in partnership with Dalhousie University.

It will serve people who face barriers receiving treatment for mental health problems, including people with low incomes who can't afford to pay for private psychological treatment and others who don't know how to apply for publicly funded treatment.

"So it certainly really provides an opportunity for access in vulnerable populations," said Brian Comer, provincial minister in charge of the Office of Mental Health and Addictions.

A gap in training

Dr. Shannon Johnson is the co-director of the clinic. She said the clinic is working with community organizations to identify clients in need.

"We've recognized an important gap in clinical training over the years, mainly that students have limited opportunities to work with clients from marginalized and under-served populations," she said.

Students in the training clinic will work under the supervision of registered clinical psychologists. Patrick Hickey worked with the centre this summer as part of his PhD studies.

"After one summer, I can already see the impact we are having for our clients by making psychological support more accessible, comprehensive and timely," he said.

Observations from the clinic will be used to help develop the province's universal mental health and addictions system, according to a government news release. That system is part of a plan to improve health care, called Action for Health.