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New online program offers innovative solutions for long-term substance use recovery

​Breaking Free Online, a new online program at the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, is helping clients with substance use challenges stay on their recovery journeys.
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The online substance use relapse prevention program allows clients to develop skills and access key resources that will continue to be available to them as they transition out of Burnaby Centre and back to their homes. 

"The initiative grew out of a need to help clients develop the self-management skills they need for a successful transition back to their communities—continuity of care and transition support are vital to staying in recovery," said Kim Korf-Uzan, the director of e-mental health and special projects at BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services. "The program gives them something to proactively access at their own pace, whenever and wherever they need it."

It was developed in the UK by clinical psychologists and was made available to Canadians just last month - Burnaby Centre is one of the first facilities in the country to offer it. The Canadian version includes a voiceover in a Canadian accent as well as changes from British to Canadian terminology. The program will also be available in French.

Using a tablet or computer, clients work their way through an extensive toolkit that will help them sustain their recovery in the long term: psychoeducational and practical resources, positive coping methods, and strategies for managing problem areas such as negative thoughts and unhelpful behaviours. It's based on research, including the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (commonly known as CBT), mindfulness, relapse prevention, reward and reinforcement, and motivational enhancement therapy.

Leading the way in virtual health

Korf-Uzan says Breaking Free Online is only one way in which BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services is using virtual health to help clients, wherever they are.

"We're delivering a lot of care via telehealth and telemedicine already," she said. "There is a great need for mental health and substance use services across the province, so for some of our clients, who are ready to try something different or who may head back to communities with fewer resources, this is a great option. We need to start thinking outside the box and re-imagining how we deliver care. Our clients use technology in all other aspects of their lives. It's time to look at how it can support and enhance their health care experience as well."

She explains that mental health programs such as Burnaby Centre are uniquely positioned to be leaders in virtual care.

"Our clients don't need much hands-on treatment—mental health and substance use care is very different from general practice and oncology, for example," said Korf-Uzan. "I'm looking forward to the other tools we'll be making available to offer our clients even better care. The digital literacy skills many of our clients will learn are an added bonus. For some, this may be their first time using a tablet, computer or email address."

Client-centred care

The program was chosen after extensive consultations with clinicians, clients and family members.

"With virtual health decisions, we involve our clinicians and clients at every step of the process," said Kathy Steegstra, the senior provincial executive director of Virtual Health, Trauma Services BC and the Mobile Medical Unit at PHSA. "It is really important for PHSA that this is a clinically led initiative that involves the clients' voices and input."

When clients who have begun the program are ready for discharge, staff will help them download the app onto a personal mobile phone or tablet, and it will be customizable to the client's individual needs.

"Post-discharge, if a client walks by a location that has triggered them previously, an alert pops up, and the app gives them reminders of the information and coping mechanisms they have identified and created to help them stay true to their recovery progress," Steegstra said.

A handful of Burnaby Centre clients have signed up thus far, but the feedback is already positive.

"It's awesome, and I'm excited to have a buddy to keep me on track—especially after I leave here," said one client who wished to remain anonymous.

BC Mental Health and Substance Use leaders hope to make Breaking Free Online available to clients in their other programs, and eventually, other health authorities.

BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services
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