Addressing mental health is a need that has only grown in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Questions of how to provide supportive counseling in a constantly changing environment are routinely raised, particularly focusing on the effectiveness of Telehealth Services.
Fairfield University’s Counseling and Psychological Services posted an announcement on Life@Fairfield in regards to their services for the Spring Semester. The announcement makes note of the challenges in conducting in-person counseling due to the presence of the Omicron Variant and the desire to prevent the spread on campus. In regards to this, Counseling and Psychological Services plans on offering mental health services over Zoom meetings, but also have recently made in-person appointments available.
Two years ago, during the fall semester I decided to set up a meeting with the counseling services on Zoom, to address the growing stress I was experiencing during the pandemic and adapting to a “new normal” college environment. As someone who struggles with being open about my feelings and insecurities, I was nervous heading into my first session but my nerves were put at ease once I met with my counselor and felt comfortable in expressing the feelings I’ve been bottling up. The counselor I met with was engaging, and actively listened as I shared my stress, and followed up our meetings with links to resources and exercises to provide further support in navigating my situation.
While an online session can take getting used to, there are ways to adjust your experience and make sure that it is meeting your comfort level to gain the most out of your time. For myself when zooming in my dorm room, it was hard not to get distracted by my surroundings or by the technology around me. There is also the risk of technology issues that can interfere with the session such as connection problems or volume issues that would otherwise be avoided when meeting in person.
An online counseling session, however, can provide a greater level of privacy and flexibility such as having the opportunity to turn off your camera during the session if you prefer, or if someone is more comfortable writing about their feelings rather than vocalizing them, there is the option of using the chat function.
While on Zoom, I found it helpful to use headphones as it provided more confidentiality when interacting with the counselor, and allowed me to tune in more to what the counselor was saying.
A further suggestion for an online counseling session is to create a comfortable environment for yourself in whatever space you are in. This could be getting into something more comfortable or using blankets while heating up some tea. Feeling physically comfortable helps put the mind at ease and can alleviate anxiety and stress when confiding in a counselor.
Online counseling can also be easily adaptable to one’s comfort level; voicing your preferences to your counselor can make it a more engaging experience. You can suggest taking a break and rejoining the session to gather your thoughts, or you can decide what you would like to discuss for this session and plan what to discuss for a session at a later date. You can also discuss how long you would like the session to last or provide feedback on what’s working or what to incorporate into the next session.
While a therapy session can seem daunting, especially for someone who’s never done it before, it truly can help make a difference in learning how to address and take care of your mental health. Talking about mental health can be uncomfortable but it is not a conversation to shy away from, being open about one’s struggles can not only help you but help someone else who can be going through something similar.