Helping students make the SHIFT

Online self-help program from Counselling Services

Ryan McNutt - August 28, 2013

Counselling Services. (Danny Abriel photo)
Counselling Services. (Danny Abriel photo)

For students feeling anxious, depressed or stressed and wanting to do something about it, there’s a new, convenient option available at your fingertips.

SHIFT, which stands for “Self Help for Improving Feelings and Thought,” is a free online self-help program offered to students at Dal, King’s and NSCAD University. It’s designed for individuals who are experiencing some symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress — the three most common mental health issues reported by students — but who aren’t receiving psychological services.

“Surveys have shown that while students are more likely to seek help than ever before, at least a quarter of them still won’t choose to come and see us in person,” explains Victor Day, director of Counselling Services at Dalhousie.

“We also have students who have physical and time restraints that prevent them from being able to meet in person, everything from transportation issues to being off on co-op terms. That’s part of why an online self-help system makes sense as part of our offerings.”

The program consists of five core modules — introduction & self-assessment, activity & mood, motivation, thoughts & feelings and advanced thoughts & feelings — with five more optional ones that participants can complete. Each contain information, examples and activities for students to work through, including strategies for helping manage issues such as stress and anxiety.

Coaching and support


Just because SHIFT is about self-help, though, doesn’t mean students are left on their own. Participants in the program stay in contact with a SHIFT personal coach, a  trained student employee  who guides them through the process and helps keep them motivated.

“When students attempt these sorts of self-help programs on their own, the dropout rates can be very high — as much as 90 per cent,” says Dr. Day. “But ours is more like 35 per cent. That’s still something to improve on, of course, but it shows how having someone to help you along can make a big difference."

The program was developed in collaboration with the IWK Health Centre and graduate students from the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. The software was originally designed by the IWK Health Centre for distance programming for parents; Psychology students worked with Counselling Services to repurpose the software and build a program to support students’ mental health. Since then, it’s gone through successful clinical trials when it was known as the “Feeling Better” program. (The project also received external research funding from the Nova Scotia Health Research Foundation.)

With a couple of years under the program’s belt, Counselling Services is eager to have more students try out SHIFT this fall.

“If anxiety, depression or stress is a factor in your life and you want to work on changing it, this is for you,” says Dr. Day. “If these areas of your life are not going as well as you’d like, is it worth putting in a few hours towards changing it? That’s the questions we’d like students to ask themselves.”

Learn more: Counselling Services


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