by: Zach Gibson, LCPC, NCC Senior Clinical Therapist at 360 Youth Services
When you work as a counselor or social worker, chances are you pursued the career because you like people. You want to be with them and help them through any number of challenges that life may present. But what is it like when you can no longer be with those people face-to-face and still strive to meet their ever-changing needs? Welcome to the world of telehealth in the time of a stay-at-home order.
What all do we consider as we embark on the telehealth journey?
As a trauma-informed counselor, I (and all of my colleagues at 360 Youth Services) have adapted in order to take counseling services out of the office, out of the comfortable, familiar place that my clients value, and have discovered ways to deliver that safety and security from afar. How can I be sure that my client feels as safe as possible? How can I best express & reflect to make sure they feel seen & heard? These are the thoughts that run through my mind in the moments before each and every telehealth session. Not to mention striving to maintain confidentiality and privacy for my clients from the confines of my own home.
What are the challenges of telehealth you might ask?
This is a big question, as things keep evolving every day. The 360 Youth Services counseling team had some experience with telehealth before our current pandemic situation, but we very quickly sought to expand our education & training for providing this essential service to so many folks. Still, there are questions I must ask myself at the start of any day with telehealth: Is this lighting okay? Will the internet connection be stable today? What if the session is disrupted on either end? How will this particular activity be received without being together in person? How can I engage this young person to meet their emotional needs today? How will I handle any new concerns that arise while we are physically apart? While not an exhaustive list by any means, these challenges & questions have shaped the telehealth services that I provide, requiring me to be a more creative problem solver.
But how do people respond to telehealth counseling?
It is my belief that people are doing the very best they can at any given moment. As humans, we are incredibly adaptive and this is no different for the clients who engage in counseling services during this time of social distancing. We may be socially distant, but as counselors, we are still very much emotionally connected with our clients and their needs. I believe this comes through in the relationships we continue to maintain and the progress & growth our clients continue to experience.
You can be certain that counselors have their own hard days right now as well, but prioritize seeking support from colleagues, being active, maintaining routine, & having our own support circles through virtual means.
While telehealth may not be the same as counseling services in-person and may not be ideal for every individual, I can tell you from the counselor perspective that we are working diligently to provide consistent, supportive services until we are able to meet with our clients again. Remember, we are all navigating this challenging time together.
360 Youth Services in Naperville, IL provides substance use prevention education and counseling for youth and families, as well as housing for youth experiencing homelessness. Click here for more information on counseling services.