Counseling in an Ever Changing World

Picture this.  I have five baby pictures.  That’s all.  There are a few more pictures of me as a young child and teenager.  I have all my school pictures which provide a good developmental timeline.  I was never a fashion queen or stood out in a crowd.  In adulthood, there are enough pictures with me in them to continue a pictorial timeline which also helps when I want to tell snippets of my story.

Since mid-March, the world has advanced into a worldwide crisis like never before in history.  The government, both local and national, have made recommendations about how we are to limit moving about in our daily lives personally and professionally.  Many common in-person meetings moved to video platforms.  Nearly immediately, many professions moved all their appointments to private and secure online systems. 

I was slow to respond though I watched and listened intently to how the world reported the news.  It seemed like daily there were recommendations and closures that spread across the country like a dark cloud.  I kept wondering when the storm would break open, let loose the torrential rains, and blow over.  It didn’t happen as I expected.  Instead, because friends know I quilt, I was sent multiple patterns to make face-masks.

During my first attempt of face-mask making, I put on one.   I felt simultaneous, an overwhelming sensation of protection and concealment.  The constant droning of what became defined as a pandemic was feeding my fear.  I know fear can be over-exaggerated and compounded if left unnoticed.  Fear has stopped me cold from achievements when I allowed myself to doubt and worry.  It blocked any initiation or venture into the possible task at hand.   

While being immersed in all the news, my profession was one that state authority included in their list of “essential workers”.  My perspective shifted.  How can I help?  There were options and opportunities that could surface during this time… if I so dared to engage them rather than retreat from them. 

My professional role as a mental health therapist—a licensed professional counselor–was being called out.  Out of my comfort zone of in-person sessions at my private office and home visits.  This essential professional role had the opportunity to use a private and secure video platform and continue serving clients despite the current conditions.

What each of us do is intimately attached to who we are individually.  Who we are is a culmination of our personality, experiences, values, principles, morals, beliefs and more.  Working takes who we are into what we do.  As a professional, it takes specific attention to take care of oneself in order to care for others.  Almost immediately, I realized that if I was going to accept this distant video opportunity that was bestowed on my profession, I needed to do more in preparation.  I needed to do my own work and address the fear that surfaced in me when this option arose.  This included seeking out education on Telemental Healthcare.  So I began the process of familiarization, identifying limitations and benefits so I could make an informed decision whether I am suited to add this alternative to my practice.

My fear was easily identifiable.  As the first paragraph shows, I was never the person whose desire was to be picture-perfect or highly photographed.  That’s just not me.  Studies show 70% of communications are nonverbal.  This information was the first step in narrowing down my decision.  I am not including just audio sessions into my practice.  Nonverbal communication, even if limited, is too vital in what I do.  My next decision was focused at video sessions.  Could I do Telemental Health video sessions as effectively and efficiently as in-person sessions?  

I realized some time ago, I really don’t see myself in the mirror.  My daily routine includes being in front of a mirror in order to get ready for the day, but I have no deep-seated personal admiration for that process.  In these new video systems, there is a frame on the screen that is just me.  As an experiential learner, I found unobtrusive ways of trying out this new mode of communicating.   In the beginning, while learning about the technology and testing my computer, my old reaction surfaced.  Quit now!  I didn’t like seeing myself so much in one session.  But, I kept on.  My next step was not only seeing me, but seeing me in a group.  I was more comfortable learning in a group because of the other people, I continue to scan the faces of all the other frames.  This extended my attention away from just me.  In interactive groups, I noticed I say very little.  Finally I asked friends to meet with me in one-on-one video sessions.  In this dynamic, I relaxed and could be my own outside observer.  This means I could concurrently watch myself and the other person.  I noticed I could be authentic presenting and maintaining genuineness despite the virtual environment.

My preference has not changed.  I believe the best work is done meeting people in-person and face-to-face.  Counseling, coaching or any personal supportive work can be successful when both parties of the relationship are safe.  Safety can be sabotaged by fear in either party.  Because I addressed my fear, received additional training and continue to engage in video conferencing in a multitude of opportunities, I feel confident in offering clients this additional choice.  SunSet Community Counseling now has added Telemental Health video sessions to our viable simple solutions.  Feel free to contact us if you have questions or concerns.

“A picture speaks a 1000 words.”