The current situation with COVID-19 and the effect it is having on counseling students’ lives can cause stress, anxiety and uncertainty. In my role as a doctoral student supervisor, I am hearing these stories from supervisees and their classmates. Thankfully, my department, the Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation Studies at East Carolina University, has jumped to action to support all of its students, especially the practicum and internship students. However, the faculty are limited in what they can do based on decisions made by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
Keep in mind that there are more than 800 CACREP-accredited programs, which could mean over 10,000 counseling students. All of you are in the same boat and are doing your best to stay afloat. Without flexibility in standards, we could find ourselves with an even larger shortage of mental health professionals over the next couple of years.
As graduate counseling students, you have no control over CACREP, of course. What do you have control over? The following recommendations may not be new to you, yet they are helpful. In fact, you may already be sharing some of these with clients.
Keep your schedule. We all know how helpful schedules and routines are in maintaining our mental health. Although you may not be going to classes or work sites right now, keeping the schedule you had previously or adjusting to a new reasonable schedule is wise. Include a morning routine and a routine for bedtime. If you find that you suddenly have a little extra time each day, explore options for how you can use that time, such as sleeping in, exercising, meditating or doing crafts.
Check in with classmates and colleagues. My Ph.D. student cohort has a group chat, and the Navigate Counseling Clinic where I provide counseling services does too. One day during our “spring break 2.0,” I realized how much I missed seeing my cohort and needed a check-in. When I scheduled a video conference, the other members of my cohort found this funny because I am not known to be the most touchy-feely person. But seeing their faces was so helpful for me. We also host weekly video conferences with the Navigate clinicians, internship students and practicum students. Group chats are great, especially for pet photos and memes, yet video conferences take that connection to the next level.
Check in with your progress. Now is a great time to figure out what you need before you take that next step, whether it be for practicum, internship or becoming licensed. Seek help from faculty, supervisors, webinars and other learning opportunities. I created a “counselor dunking booth” in which supervisees are able to play a short clip of a TV show, movie or counseling tape or create a case study and challenge me concerning how I would address the situation or client. Even if you are unable to go to your site or do telehealth, there are many opportunities to sharpen your skills, knowledge and abilities.
Check in with yourself. How are you holding up under the current stress? Is it affecting your ability to work with clients or complete necessary coursework? If you are having a hard time answering these questions, ask those who know you best. Now may be a good time to find a counselor for yourself if you have not done so already.
Many counselors are indicating their ability to provide telehealth on their personal websites or on Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist directory. The Pandemic Therapists website is compiling a nationwide list of counselors providing support during the current situation. Keep checking back because new resources are being added. If money is a concern, some counselors may offer sessions for free or for a small fee to counseling students. Also check out Open Path Collective and Give An Hour. Do not forget to connect with your state’s National Alliance on Mental Illness organizations and affiliates. The national organization has a helpline that can assist you in finding counselors.
The bottom line is that as a counseling student today, you will be even better prepared than some licensed clinicians once you enter the counseling field. You will be able to show great empathy to clients when they seek services to manage the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. You likely will have gone through a crash course in telehealth or, at the very least, learned how to quickly shift your learning online. You will have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the human connections that we offer to clients as counselors.
You will emerge stronger for having gone through this experience.
Dana M. Cea, pronouns she/her or they/them, is a volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a mental health professional, a survivor of suicide loss, and a doctoral student at East Carolina University. She focuses her research on mental health and suicide, the LGBTQ+ community, youth, and autism spectrum disorder. Dana lives with mental health disorders, her spouse, and their three dogs. Contact her at danamcea.com.