Aug. 24, 2020

Single-session counselling a new delivery mode at Student Wellness Services

Individualized connection responds to growing demand from students

In response to student user feedback, Student Wellness Services (SWS) has pivoted their focus and will begin to use single-session counselling as their primary delivery mode starting at the end of August 2020.

The new delivery mode offers longer timeslots of 60 to 90 minutes. This will connect students directly and more immediately with counsellors who will help them generate solutions for mental health concerns and provide assistance with accessing additional resources.

Growing demand for support

SWS has seen a steady increase in the number of students reaching out for mental health support, especially since the introduction of the Campus Mental Health Strategy. According to Dr. Anna-Lisa Ciccocioppo, a professional counsellor at SWS, students have been increasingly searching out and accessing mental health supports since she started work with SWS in 2002.

“There is a greater demand for services as students try to take care of their mental health concerns as they relate to their academic and personal lives,” she says.

Now, timely access and brief intervention seem to be what students most care about when connecting with a mental health professional.

“Students want that individualized connection in order to move forward and to be successful when dealing with mental health concerns,” Ciccocioppo continues.

Faster access for more students

Changing the delivery mode and hiring additional counsellors will help SWS provide faster access to mental health supports for a greater number of students. The single-session delivery mode is also more efficient because many people only need one session to get them on track.

Alex Klassen, a registered social worker, is the SWS’s mindfulness facilitator and one of the counselors on staff. Klassen has had experience with single-session counselling at both UCalgary and Catholic Family Service, and says that the single-session delivery mode makes a lot of sense for most people who are seeking help.

“We already know that one appointment is the most common duration for counselling, and if that’s the case, we want to make it the most meaningful,” Klassen says. The single-session delivery mode focuses on providing timely support and is solution-oriented, which means students receive direct and immediate feedback.

In the previous delivery mode, students made an appointment for an intake session, where they were assessed by a mental health professional and placed on the waitlist for brief ongoing counselling. During this wait time, students were encouraged to seek other resources to help tide them over until a counsellor became available.

Other services continue

That wait time is now gone, but the new delivery mode still emphasizes educational and preventive work. This change to single-session counselling will not affect any of the other services available to students. Brief ongoing individual counselling, group work, and online training and workshops are still available.

“There’s a real misconception of people only wanting to access long-term counselling. But the majority of the students want to have immediate access to quality support, and many find that just one session is enough. That’s why single-session counselling is so helpful to people,” says Klassen.

Single-session counselling was informally piloted at SWS in 2019. During that time, counsellors tracked the number of students referred to other services and the number who sought out further one-on-one support. Many students reported that they felt satisfied with the single session they attended.

“Within one session you can do some really good work, but it can also be a jumping point to other resources,” Ciccocioppo explains, adding that some students aren’t necessarily in need of counselling, but are looking for information on accessing certain resources or finding a listening ear.

New approach supported by research

The information collected is consistent with previous research on the matter. In fact, research suggests that even clients with “more severe presenting problems” benefit from the efficiency of single-session counselling. Other professionals further afoot (from the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy) describe this delivery mode as “a client-centred, efficient and effective way to manage a clinical service.” Staff at UCalgary’s SWS are also excited about the change.

This delivery mode recognizes the strengths and capacities of students, and allows for a bit of time between sessions for students to implement the strategies and return to speak to a counsellor if they need to adjust their plan, during which time counsellors can accommodate more students.

“It gives students the time to reflect, engage, and come back if they need more support and to continue the conversation if they need to,” Klassen says.

Match students with services based on need

The support model (separate from the delivery mode) used at SWS is called the co-ordinated care model, and it’s key to managing the individual needs of students who access SWS’s services. The idea behind the model is to match students with the most effective services for their unique situation, and to co-ordinate different services they may access. Services can include counselling, group workshops, online learning, medical doctors, psychiatrists, or community resources. This coordination helps to create an individualized and comprehensive mental health plan that provides students with the most appropriate support to meet their needs.

Another continuing resource through SWS is the student support adviser role. These mental health professionals help students navigate the web of services on campus and find specialized support in the community. For example, if students are having trouble accessing housing, financial aid or other resources, a student support advisor will work with them to come up with appropriate solutions. Student support advisors are also critical to mental health support on campus, offering students a point of contact to check in and keep track of mental health and well-being goals.

Despite the change to the delivery mode and the change to remote support because of the pandemic, Ciccocioppo wants students to know that SWS is open and continues to accessible to students. SWS currently offers remote mental health support to students.

“We are still operating! Despite the pandemic, we’ve been here and will continue to be here,” she says.

For more information on services and updates, visit

At UCalgary we continue to offer mental health support for students, faculty and staff with remote services. If you are experiencing significant stress related to your mental health during COVID-19, seek support — visit our Mental Health During COVID-19 web page for a list of resources and supports.

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential.