Fr. Stephan Kappler, president and chief psychologist at Southdown, said the pandemic has allowed Southdown to re-examine the ways it offers its services to the community. Photo by Michael Swan

Southdown opens doors wider

  • September 18, 2020

By embracing the opportunity found in challenges brought about by COVID-19, Southdown Institute is expanding mental health services to reach even more people of faith.

Southdown has traditionally served clergy and others who minister within the religious community, but through a new initiative of online psychoeducation, spiritual and group therapy events, the institute is widening its scope to give access to the Catholic laity in need of holistic care.

The new virtual outreach initiative called Southdown Community Wellness Services is expected to launch in November and will provide psychoeducation workshops for those managing a number of issues, including grief, stress management, loneliness, isolation and anxiety. While it will continue to offer outpatient psychotherapy, new psychotherapeutic group sessions will help greater numbers of people to work through many of the pressing psychological challenges of the times.

“Since we began way back in the 1960s, we have always continued to evolve and to respond to the needs of the present moment,” said Susan Davy, communications and outreach officer at Southdown, located in Holland Landing, Ont., north of Toronto. “That blend of the psychological and the spiritual within the Catholic tradition is exactly what the hope is in terms of moving to a whole new area of need. We’re just doing what we already do so well and offering that to the wider community which is certainly in keeping with our tradition.”

Individuals will be able to register for various virtual workshops through Southdown’s website ( in the coming weeks, while enrolment for group therapy sessions will involve more in-depth psychological assessment by a clinician to ensure suitability and a safe, trusting and confidential environment for all participants.

In addition to new offerings for laypersons, Southdown has expanded existing programs to reach its traditional clients as well. As of Aug. 1, the virtual walk-in clinic has been open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Individuals are able to call (289) 763-1478 and be connected with a clinician where they will receive two virtual sessions free of charge.

“We wanted to make an easy way for clergy, religious and the ecclesial lay pastoral ministers to reach out and find unbureaucratic easy access to the resources that Southdown has,” said Fr. Stephan Kappler, president and chief psychologist. “The virtual walk-in clinic is an easy way for them to reach out and for us to say, ‘We are here for you. How can we help?’ ”

To make mental health services more accessible to the Catholic community, Southdown is also offering 40-per-cent off the residential program for clergy. Online assessment services to the traditional population are also up and running and the expansion into the realm of virtual services is helping to reach people who may have struggled to find access before.

“Switching to a virtual platform in the beginning sounded like it would be a challenge and yet strangely we found a lot of new openings because we learned that it is easier sometimes for people living in remote areas to access an assessment virtually,” said Kappler. “Instead of making the trip to Southdown, we’re able to reach people in other areas and offer an assessment for them which has been a good and positive experience.”

Like many organizations adjusting to the new normal in light of the global pandemic, Southdown has made a number of changes, including keeping its residential programs at 50-per-cent capacity, holding staff meetings virtually even with its team back in office and putting new sanitation measures in place. The biggest change has been this expansion into the online space, which only accelerated a shift that had already been taking place.

“It was a direction we were already beginning to explore so there has been a natural synergy that happened,” said Davy. “Moving forward, as with many (other organizations) who have had this experience, there will be a synergy of both traditional in-person and digital offerings.”

With a commitment to holistic care, Southdown’s program will continue to include fitness classes, art programs and other opportunities for clients to ensure the needs of the Church are met during this time of uncertainty for so many.    

“ ‘Willing to go to any length’ is this wonderful saying we use in recovery,” said Davy.

“It means that we’re willing to do whatever we need to do together to keep us all well and for us to get through this in the healthiest way possible.”

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