WHEREAS rural Alberta is under-served by mental health professionals, and the need for qualified, comprehensive, and accessible mental health services are desperately needed throughout Alberta; and
WHEREAS despite promises made by successive provincial and federal governments to improve mental health services for all Albertans, rural Alberta continues to be underserved without any substantive change; and
WHEREAS the need for readily available and quality mental health services is growing continuously, as can be seen by growing homeless populations, increasing drug dependency, correlated increases in property crimes, overloaded law enforcement, and judicial systems; and
WHEREAS there is currently no eligibility for the Canada Student Loan forgiveness program for provisional psychologists and psychologists who are members of the Alberta Psychologist Association; and
WHEREAS currently professional counsellors registered with the Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association with practices located in rural Alberta do not qualify for the Canada Student Loan forgiveness program; and
WHEREAS currently in Alberta there are no minimum standards or governing body for practicing counsellors; and
WHEREAS the Association of Counselling Therapy of Alberta has been petitioning the Government of Alberta to regulate professional counsellors practicing in Alberta by establishing a College of Counselling Therapy of Alberta; and
WHEREAS regulating counsellors holds them to professional standards and subjects them to a disciplinary process should these standards be breached, thereby ensuring vulnerable Albertans are not exposed to potentially harmful or poor-quality services; and
WHEREAS due to the lack of a regulating body, qualified professional counsellors are often not recognized by employee assistance programs for reimbursement; and
WHEREAS many rural Albertans are required to travel long distances and pay out of pocket for counselling services, making the service difficult or impossible to attain for many individuals;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) request that the Government of Alberta advocate to the Government of Canada to add provisional psychologists, psychologists, and registered counsellors with the Canadian Counselling & Psychotherapy Association to the list of qualifying professions for the Canada Student Loan Forgiveness program, provided that their professional practices are located within a designated under-served rural or remote community within Alberta;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA urges the Government of Alberta to work in conjunction with the Association of Counselling Therapy of Alberta to create a regulatory body that would be responsible for developing, maintaining, and enforcing regulations, standards of practice, and codes of ethics to protect the public in the Province of Alberta.
Over the past number of years, all levels of government have acknowledged the growing need for mental health services. While there have been some attempts at improving mental health services across Alberta, none of these efforts have contributed significantly to improving rural Albertans’ access to services compared to our urban neighbours.
While recognizing that health services are the domain of the provincial and federal governments, it is incumbent upon local municipal governments to hear our residents’ requests for help, recognize the need for action, and advocate to senior government levels. In the past municipal governments across Alberta advocated for increased numbers of rural doctors, and in response, a Student Loan Forgiveness initiative was created.
Only health professionals, such as nurse practitioners, licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, registered psychiatric nurse, family doctors, family physicians, and family medicine residents practicing in designated under-served rural or remote communities, qualify for the Canada Student Loan forgiveness program.
In an effort to increase mental health services in rural and remote portions of Alberta, we would encourage the Government of Alberta to consider advocating to the Government of Canada to add provisional psychologists, psychologists, and professional counsellors registered with CCPA to the list of professions that qualify for the Canada Student Loan forgiveness program. This benefit would encourage these professionals to consider rural Alberta locations for their practices.
The Association of Counselling Therapy of Alberta (ACTA) has been working to create a regulatory body to govern counselling therapy, much the same as The College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) regulates doctors in Alberta. However, the province advised ACTA in September 2021 that the College of Counselling Therapy of Alberta (CCTA) was no longer a priority for the government.
This is concerning as it leaves no regulation as to who can market themselves as a counselling therapist, as well as no minimum standards or practices for those that choose to provide counselling therapy. Further, it leaves vulnerable Albertans exposed to potentially harmful or poor-quality services and impacts how insurance providers and employee assistance programs view counselling therapy in Alberta. This can also mean residents must travel long distances to receive these services in larger city centers. This is impractical and expensive and can lead to someone failing to obtain needed therapy. Without a regulatory body, anyone may present themselves as a counselling therapist as there are no professional standards to subject them to nor any disciplinary process for unsafe practices. Further, these added non-professionals distort the numbers, which may cause inappropriate estimations of accurate counselling services available to residents.
We would encourage the Government of Alberta to expedite working with the ACTA to create a governing body for counselling therapists in Alberta for the service and protection of all Albertans.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.