MONTREAL — Relationship advice is now available online through a new service of Agence Ometz.
Ask Emma www.ask-emma.ca is intended to provide a confidential and safe forum for straight and gay adults, whether they are married, living common-law or dating, who have concerns about their relationships.
Participants can benefit from the experience of others in similar circumstances or the counselling of the half-dozen mental health professionals who moderate the content at least once a day.
There is no “Emma”; it was simply felt that using a name would personalize the service, said Ometz clinical director Barbara Victor.
Anyone can browse the site, but to join the “conversation,” registration, providing a password and email address, is required, however, users remain anonymous.
The professionals who work at Ometz, a Federation CJA agency, screen incoming mail for appropriateness.
However, no credible question or comment is rejected, and any registrant can post an answer or comment. Professional advice is non-judgmental, assured Rosa Caporicci, Ometz’s supervisor of community projects. The goal is to make the conversation as broad and inclusive, as possible.
Generally, a professional replies to an inquiry within 24 hours. Communication among users is ongoing, although not in real time.
The agency especially hopes that the service will reach those in violent or abusive relationships, who might be reluctant to come forward in person for professional help.
“But this is not a crisis service, by any means,” Victor said.
“The goal of Ask Emma is to help individuals break out of their isolation and build a community of caring peers,” said Victor.
Ask Emma seeks to encourage peer-to-peer discussions on real issues such as family violence prevention, healthy relationships, couple communication, and blended families.
Although Ask Emma is intended for the general community, one user wanted to know how to reconcile the differences between himself and his partner on religious observance, specifically kashrut.
“We do have a lot of experience with Jewish issues, as well as multiculturalism and diversity,” Victor said.
A questionnaire can be taken on the site that is designed to evaluate the state of a relationship. There’s also information from experts and a directory of resources, such as crisis lines and shelters.
“Someone might feel uncomfortable in a relationship and not know why. Using Ask Emma gives them time for exploration before going for professional help, if necessary,” Victor said.
“Just by sharing with other people, they can have their feelings validated.”
Several categories are suggested on the site: new couples, day-to-day problems, “uncomfortable” relationships, communication between spouses, separation, divorce and post-marriage, family law, children and parenting, multicultural/multiracial couples, aging and relationships, and step-families.
Ask Emma has been made possible by a donation from Sharon Steinberg, who has supported other Ometz counselling programs. “It was felt that this online service would fill a gap in what we provide,” Victor said.
Caporicci acknowledged that people in bad relationships may not be the ones best suited to advise others in a similar situation, but that is where the professionals monitoring the site can step in.
To publicize Ask Emma, thousands of postcards and posters are being distributed in public places, with the slogans “Who can I turn to?” and “How do I make it stop?” (in English and French). One shows a photo of a man and woman, their identities obscured, in a heated exchange.
Ometz is also making the service known through social media.