Programming Connection


AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT)

How Does the Program Work?

Location and timing of outreach

TowelTalk takes place in several bathhouses in Toronto with counselling taking place in a private room.  ACT was able to gain access to these venues through its membership in a network of gay men’s health bathhouse outreach workers called M2M Network. By drawing on the network’s long-established relationship with several bathhouses in Toronto, TowelTalk was able to negotiate the weekly use of a single private room during regular set times.

Whenever possible, the counsellor establishes and maintains hours in each bathhouse at key times when men may experience a heightened need for counselling, such as at the end of a weekend when those “coming down” off various substances are likely to experience depression along with concerns over risky behaviours engaged in over the course of the weekend. Times must be pre-established with bathhouse owners and managers.

During the set hours, the counsellor is present in the room assigned to him, displaying the availability of his counselling services on the door. In some bathhouses, the presence of the counsellor may also be announced by posting a sign at a strategic place in the bathhouse (such as the check-in counter) indicating the presence and location of the counsellor.  

Recruitment and engagement

Flyers are posted at busy locations in participating bathhouses and at other community venues such as bars, cafés and community centres. Most clients, however, discover the counsellor’s presence in the bathhouse by happening upon him. Often discussion with the counsellor is initiated by a client through a flirtation with the counsellor.

Counselling and referrals

TowelTalk provides men in the bathhouse with access to anonymous counselling sessions lasting between 10 and 45 minutes, as well as referrals to other health and social services.

Uniquely, counsellors can also provide up to eight short-term follow-up sessions offsite to clients who desire and demonstrate a need for them (e.g., drug or alcohol dependency, mental health issues or chronic depression). Based on the counsellor’s knowledge of community services and partnerships with other service providers, they can also provide clients with streamlined referrals to more extensive counselling services offered by some community partners.

By maintaining excellent relationships with community service providers, the counsellor is able to provide men in need of more extensive services with speedy access to them. This can be critical for reaching men who may be reluctant to follow through with accessing services requiring long wait times or complex intake procedures. The counsellor can also schedule more in-depth follow-up counselling outside the bathhouse setting in his office for a later date to any clients who require and desire it.

Common themes arising in counselling sessions include sexual health, risk reduction behaviour, substance use, relationship issues, guilt and shame, homophobia, HIV/AIDS, loneliness and isolation, anxiety and stress, immigration and settlement issues, sexual identity, trauma and other mental health concerns.