(Montreal) The notion of family has expanded over time; once reserved for a couple of heterosexual parents and their children, the term now applies to a group of people whom the heart has chosen. With this expansion of the family nucleus, the reasons for calling on a professional in helping relationships also vary.

Marriage and family therapist (TCF) for nine years and social worker for more than twenty years, Anny Veillette notes that the reasons for calling on her services have evolved over time.

“In general, people are more sensitive to their life as a couple, she mentions, as the Week of Marriage and Family Therapists of Quebec begins this Monday. Before, we consulted for problems with children. There are still requests of the kind, but people consult more by making the difference between the situation with the children and the state of their life as a couple. »

“There is more and more demand; people realize that there is no reason to be ashamed to seek help or advice for their mental health, the health of their relationship and their sexual health,” adds Joanie Heppell, sex therapist and president of her professional order.

In doing so, couples who choose to seek help from a therapist usually do so out of a genuine desire to improve their relationship.

“Half a century ago, couples rarely separated because outside pressure forced them to stay together. Today, people stay in relationships for internal reasons; there is no longer that pressure,” says Dr. Christine Grou, president of the Order of Psychologists of Quebec.

The evolution of mores also brings new challenges within couples.

“Obviously, certain practices persist, such as communication problems, conflict management, the relationship with the children or with the family of our partner, or sexuality, lists Abdelghani Barris, TCF. But the ways of being in a couple have changed, and we have moved from traditional unions to more open, more fluid forms, which necessarily generate issues that were not so present before. »

“There are many family models that bring new realities, not just for partners, but for children and other family members,” Dr. Grou continues. But no matter which model you choose, constants remain: there needs to be respect for others, good communication, common core values, and a bond that unites. This meaningful attachment is a protective factor for mental health. »

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in exacerbating certain couple or family problems, particularly due to confinement. “It really isolated people. I have couples who have been together for two years with less activity, less stimulation or encounters, and it has impoverished their relationship,” said Ms. Veillette.

A Léger survey commissioned by the Order of Social Workers and Marriage and Family Therapists of Quebec (OTSTCFQ) in 2022 indicated that 30% of Quebecers had observed an increase in tension or conflict within their couple or their relationship. family since the start of the pandemic.

In other cases, the confinement allowed couples to become aware of certain problematic elements and to begin a therapeutic approach in prevention, supports Ms. Heppell. “It allowed for some perspective, a new look at the relationship and in many cases the couple chose not to wait for the problems to escalate. I see that very positively,” she says, especially since “people tend to wait 6 to 7 years before asking for help,” which is often too late.

Finally, some couples have found themselves strengthened by confinement. “Studies have shown that people who were well in relationships were protected during the pandemic, but those who were unhappy or dissatisfied with their relationships were more vulnerable. We therefore understand that the pandemic has exacerbated pressures that already existed when there were any,” says Dr. Grou.

When she reads in the newspapers that there are waiting times of one to two years to consult, the therapist practicing in Quebec cringes. “It just discourages couples in pain from thinking they won’t get the help they need when it’s possible to find a place for them,” she said.

At the height of the pandemic, Ms. Veillette had decided to maintain a waiting list, which proved useless since customers always ended up finding elsewhere. “Even if we are full, along the way, there are couples who stop or who complete their process,” she explains. So there are always places available. »

The pandemic and the increase in requests, coupled with a lack of qualified professionals, still explain the wait time faced by couples in need of help, argues Mr. Barris.

“There is not enough training for TCFs, and there are not enough trained in Quebec, and even in Canada,” he says.

The title of TCF is not recognized in the health and social services network; in doing so, the momentum of the profession in Quebec is slowed down, estimates the OTSTCFQ. As a result, many marriage and family therapists also practice under another professional title they hold, such as psychologist, social worker, nurse, sexologist, doctor or lawyer.

Dr. Grou, however, believes that the boom in demand caused by the pandemic is waning. “I have some reason to believe it’s calming down a bit,” she said in an interview. But it’s more at the private practice level; in the public network, there is a shortage of about 900 psychologists to meet the demand. »

Teleconsultation, which has become widespread over the past three years, has made it possible to take care of a clientele who were waiting, for lack of services nearby. “Now, you no longer have to find a professional who is in your city,” continues Ms. Grou.