coronavirus

Virtual Resources Help North Texas Counselors Stay Connected With Students, Each Other

Counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a unique and challenging experience for counselors caring for others

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For school counselors used to seeing students in person, making that connection during the pandemic has still been possible despite the distance.

Amy Andrews, the coordinator of counseling services for Wylie ISD, said one-on-one interaction with students hasn't changed, it just looks a little different.

“Starting the school year during this pandemic has posed multiple challenges. All of the counselors in our district have really risen to the occasion, serving our remote and in person learners,” Andrews said.

For many students, help is just a click away.

“All of our counselors are on campus, but we have set up virtual calming rooms, and QR codes to request to see counselors so we have multiple ways we can get in touch with students any time of the day,” Andrews said.

The district also offers mental health resources and counseling for counselors as well as faculty members.

Dr. Rachita Sharma, a clinical assistant professor and clinical director for the UNTWELL Clinic said the University of North Texas is ready for students in the fall.

"Counseling is something that we can provide using [telemedicine] mental health portals, and we have been able to do that entirely during the summer semester," Sharma said.

She said over the summer they learned that being able to provide virtual mental health care has helped with client retention.

"Typically what happens, is if we have students coming in in person, ... they get tired of doing walk ins, or get busy with other things, they don’t necessarily prioritize their mental health," Sharma said. "We came very close to almost having 100% attendance with counseling sessions.”

Despite the ease of connecting with students thanks to technology, she said counselors also miss being just down the hall from their colleagues.

“Counselors count on each other for that kind of support every day because of the mere nature of the work that we do," Sharma said. "Now, being isolated and being in our homes away from each other, not being able to just pop your head into a fellow counselor's office has been really difficult for a lot of us."

She said it important for counselors to also focus on their own well-being and self care, and each department at UNT has also been promoting faculty and staff mental health.

Sharma's department recently held a four-hour virtual retreat and many people stayed on longer to catch up.

"If anything I think people are finding that they need to connect with their coworkers and peer counselors," she said. "Finding ways, whether it's doing a Zoom happy hour or a virtual happy hour, or just checking in ... I think those things matter to all of us as humans, including those of us who are counselors as well."

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