Orientation to Counselling Services

Welcome to Counselling Services! We’re glad you’re here! The information in this letter will help orient you so that you know what to expect during our work together. We invite you to review it in your own time, and you can refer back to it anytime. You are always welcome to ask questions and to discuss any concerns that might arise.


Who are the counsellors at VIU? We have a team of professional counsellors who are available to all students. We also have masters-level practicum student counsellors who are finishing their training under the supervision of VIU Counsellors. See our website at viu.ca/counselling for bios or to learn more.


What are some potential benefits of counselling? There are many possible benefits to counselling, depending on what areas you’d like to develop, grow, and heal. Benefits can include understanding yourself and others better, healthy processing of experiences in your life, making meaning, discovering new possibilities for relating to yourself and others. Often students report feeling relief, feeling lighter, building confidence, having a new perspective, and/or feeling more “themselves”. Having support and working through suffering can also mean you can be more successful with your educational goals and other life goals!


What are some potential risks of counselling? Healing work can take energy, can bring up strong emotions, and can sometimes bring up difficult memories, especially when talking about traumatic experiences. At times this might interfere with your ability to focus on tasks, such as schoolwork, in the short term. You can speak with your counsellor if you’re unsure if the timing is right for you, and to collaborate on a plan to support yourself to do this important work. We can also focus on coping and wellbeing for now, until you have the time and space to address more challenging issues. We encourage you to go at a pace that is right for you and to talk about concerns with your counsellor.


What do I need to know if I work with a practicum counsellor? Practicum counsellors who join our team are skilled and experienced, and well-supported by at least one supervisor. They have completed theoretical training in counselling at the Master’s level, and are now gaining experience in the journey toward becoming a professional counsellor. If you agree to work with a practicum counsellor, the Supervising counsellor may directly observe, review video recordings and/or co-facilitate some of the practicum counsellor’s sessions with you. There will be a consent form with further information shared with you if you work with a practicum counsellor. 


What kinds of treatments/counselling approaches do VIU Counsellors offer? VIU counsellors have a wide variety of training and interests. Your counsellor can tell you more about their approaches and you can find information in our online biographies here https://services.viu.ca/counselling/viu-counselling-team-contact-info. You have the right to refuse any particular intervention suggested. You may also withdraw your consent for counselling services at any time; counselling is voluntary.


Is there a cost for counselling at VIU? VIU Counselling services are provided to registered VIU students. No additional fees are required. 


What do I need to know about distance counselling?

We have found that counselling over phone and zoom works really well. There are a few things you can do to help make it go smoothly:

  1. Make sure you are in a private, quiet space and have arranged to not be interrupted during your appointment time. Using ear buds or a headset can really help keep things confidential.
  2. Limit multitasking on your computer. Closing tabs or other apps will help you get the most out of the session. 
  3. Try to be somewhere with good phone or internet service and reception.
  4. You may not record any portion of the session without the consent of your counsellor. We will also not record for any reason without your explicit consent.
  5. With any internet and phone transmission, there is a risk of hacking. This must be carefully considered prior to engaging in distance counselling, and throughout each session. If cell phones are being used, we suggest being cautious and turning off other applications (especially social networks) during the session.
  6. Student emergency contacts and current location must be shared in case of technological failure or in case of crisis. 
  7. Distance counselling isn’t a fit for every situation. If your counsellor has concerns, they might suggest alternate resources. Every effort will be made to meet your needs either with our local resources, or with professional referrals outside our scope of practice.

If you’ve booked a phone appointment, your counsellor will call you at the appointment time. If you don’t answer, they’ll leave a message and try back. If they can’t reach you within 15 minutes, the appointment will be considered cancelled. If you do not hear from a counsellor at the scheduled appointment time please wait 10 minutes. If you do not hear from us within that time please phone reception at 250.740.6416 and leave a message indicating your name, counsellor, and time, and we will get back to you. 


What if I can’t make my appointment? If you are able to phone ahead to cancel we appreciate that, so that another student can be seen. Should you not arrive within 15 minutes of the scheduled appointment, the time may be given to another student.


How long is an appointment? Regularly scheduled appointments are up to 50 minutes long. We have found that phone and zoom sessions are often about 40 minutes, as there is a quality of intensity to those formats. Urgent sessions may be shorter. 


How many times can I see a counsellor?  How often? How often you see your counsellor is decided together with your counsellor, depending on what your needs are and the availability of your counsellor. 


What if I need to see a counsellor urgently? VIU Counselling offers a number of urgent sessions every day on a first come first serve basis. Call the front desk at 250.740.6416 to ask about this or come to Health and Wellness Reception in Building 200 to ask about booking. 


What if I need support after you’re closed or on the weekend? There are both virtual and in person supports you might access.

After-hours phone and chat/text lines you can access in BC:

  • Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1.888.494.3888 (24/7)
  • Crisis Chat VI Crisis, and text (250.800.3806) 6 - 10pm PST, 7 days a week
  • Suicide Phone line in BC (24/7) at 1.800.784.2433
  • Youth in BC - chat for youth from noon - 1am PST
  • Crisis Centre Chat - chat for adults from noon - 1am PST
  • Kuu-us Aboriginal Crisis Line (24/7) for Adults/Elders at 250.723.4050, for Child/Youth 250.723.2040, or Toll Free Line 1.800.588.8717
  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Helpline and Chat (24/7) 1-855-242-3310, culturally competent counsellors, services in English, French, Ojibway, Cree,& Inuktitut
  • Métis Crisis Line 1-833-638-4722
  • Here2Talk (24/7) offers post-secondary students free and confidential counselling and referral services by app, phone or online chat.
  • Crisis Services Canada - Suicide prevention and support (24/7) 1-833-456-4566, text (4546) and chat from 2 - 10pm PST
  • Haven Society Nanaimo for women who have been sexually assaulted or in situations of domestic violence (24/7) crisis line at 1.888.756.0616
  • WAVAW - WAVAW: Trauma-informed support for survivors of sexualized violence. Services open to all people of all marginalized genders, www.wavaw.ca or 1-877-392-7583
  • Victim Link: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/justice/criminal-justice/victims-of-c...

You can find these resources on the VIU website under emergency and after hours support: https://services.viu.ca/counselling/emergency-and-after-hours-support


Are there in-person supports after hours?  If you live in Nanaimo you can go to Brooks Landing Walk in Counselling clinic located at 203-2000 Island Highway North. They are open Monday to Friday from 10 am until 6:15 pm. In case of Emergency you can access Nanaimo Regional General Hospital or your local community hospital. 


How do I reach my Counsellor? Although we all use email to communicate, you should know that confidentiality of information communicated by electronic means cannot be guaranteed. If you choose to use email to communicate with the Counselling Centre, please be aware that information could be viewed by others. Counsellors do not currently use texting with students. The best way to reach a counsellor is by calling the front desk at 250.740.6416. 


Can I use Social media to communicate with my counsellor? Social media and email can be convenient way of communicating, however, privacy and confidentiality are not guaranteed in these forms of communication. VIU Counsellors do not communicate with, or contact students through social media or networking platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. 


Can sessions ever be recorded? No part of any session may be recorded by the student or counsellor without consent. At times we may ask for permission to record our work for the purpose of clinical supervision. 


Is all of my information kept confidential? As outlined on the intake form you completed, Counselling is private and confidential. VIU Health and Wellness Team is considered one unit of confidentiality, including medical providers at the VIU Clinic and counsellors on all VIU campuses. Thus, your counsellor may consult with colleagues within VIU’s Health and Wellness programs to ensure safety and quality of care. Your counsellor may also consult with a clinical supervisor (without sharing identifying information) for the purposes of professional development and providing excellent ethical care. No information will be released to VIU administrators, instructors, outside agencies or anyone else unless authorized by you or required by law. 

As with all Counselling Services, we may need to share information in these situations:

• A person under the age of 19, or who is otherwise vulnerable, is experiencing abuse or neglect

• There are concerns about serious and imminent danger to yourself or another person

• Counsellors and records are subpoenaed by a court of law

In these cases, whenever possible, we do our best to discuss this with you prior to sharing information.

If you have a person close to you attending counselling (e.g., partner, family member, roommate), consider seeking out a different counsellor to help maintain your privacy and confidentiality.

What happens with my information? The information collected on the intake form you complete helps us know how to help you best is for the purpose of statistical information gathering to evaluate our services. Counsellors also enter clinical notes into an electronic record. The purpose of counselling notes is to help your counsellor provide you good continuity of care. For instance, if a different counsellor had to step in, that person would have a good idea of what you have been working on. The notes are brief and are not a verbatim record of your session. The electronic record is protected, and is only accessible by other counsellors and maintained by VIU’s Informational Technology (IT) department. 


How do I access my records? Under the BC Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPA), you can request to have access to your file. However, any 3rd party information must first be removed. 

To access your counselling record:

- Please contact VIU Health and Wellness reception or talk to your counsellor to ask for a release of information form. Provide the completed form to your counsellor. Third party information will be removed before providing any records.

- If you request information to be released to an agency, talk to your counsellor about what might meet your needs (e.g., summary letter, letter of attendance). We will also take into account any risk of harm to yourself or others when considering requests for information.

- VIU’s privacy officer is the University Secretariat. You may also contact this person if you want access to your files or if you have a concern or complaint. 


How long are my records kept? Paper records (e.g., intake forms, letters) are kept for a maximum of 7 years after 19 years of age. At this time, electronic records are kept indefinitely in the database.


What if I have a complaint or a compliment? You may email the Director of Student Affairs, Bryan Tinlin, get in touch with any of the counselling team to discuss next steps, and/or contact our professional association depending on the registration of the counsellor you have seen (Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association or BC Association of Clinical Counsellors).

VIUSU has a student advocate who can be helpful if you ever have concerns about fair and equitable treatment at VIU: https://www.viusu.ca/advocate


Can I ever be denied access to counselling services? Success in counselling depends on safety, respect, and collaboration. Counsellors reserve the right to decline services to students who are contributing to an unsafe or uncomfortable environment.


Congrats on being well-informed about Counselling Services! We know this is a lot of information and we appreciate you reading. We welcome questions and feedback. We hope that you find counselling to be a beneficial support for you while you are at VIU.