Sun Life Financial is expanding its mental-health plan by piloting a new virtual cognitive behavioural therapy program.

Offered in partnership with the University of Regina, the one-year pilot project will first be rolled out for plan sponsors in Ontario and Saskatchewan. The expansion of the program next year will be based on the pilot’s results, says Marie-Hélène Pelletier, assistant vice-president, workplace health and group benefits at Sun Life.

“The hypothesis is that it will go well and be effective, because we’re working with a team that is very well-established in the work they do, and it’s a treatment that we know is effective,” she says.

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The new online option will be available to employees on an approved disability claim, with mild to moderate anxiety or depression. A combination of telephonic and online services, the program takes an average of eight-to-10 weeks to complete, notes Pelletier. “A therapist is assigned to each client and they check in on a weekly basis via email to see how they’re progressing. It’s a nice combination between the client being able to work on their own time but also being coached.”

Heather Hadjistavropoulos, a professor at the University of Regina and the director of the online therapy program, notes that past research has shown virtual cognitive behavioural therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy, with the added benefit of removing obstacles to care, such as limited access to qualified therapists, as well as mobility and time restrictions.

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It’s one of the most researched approaches in psychology, says Pelletier, noting it focuses on the way we think, feel and behave, and how these three are related to each other. “It’s a type of therapy that’s quite focused on the present and turned toward the future; it will go sometimes in the past, mostly because the beliefs we’ve developed earlier in life are impacting how we think, feel and behave today.

“. . . Once you’ve learned it, it’s with you for the rest of your life. So not only are you dealing with this situation that is right now a challenge, but it’s a tool that you then have for the rest of your life and you can talk to others around you about,” she says. “It has long-term benefits.”

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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