The strength of a group is not measured by what its members do for themselves but rather in their humanity to help others. During the past two months, I have seen the care and compassion of our members and countless other mental health professionals play out over and over. Thousands have been involved in wanting to know how they can help their clients, students and communities.
The ACA 2020 Conference & Expo was scheduled to be held last month. April is also the time when we celebrate Counseling Awareness Month. Given all of the advance planning that goes into those two events, who could have predicted they would need to diverge so wildly from their original paths because of the COVID-19 pandemic? Admittedly, many of us had to get over the shock of just how much change we would be facing. But very quickly, the outpouring of professional counselors wanting to know how they could continue helping their clients, their graduate students and others made me so incredibly proud to be working for such a compassionate group of human beings.
The coronavirus serves as an inflection point for all of us, raising questions about how we operate, how we communicate and how we socialize. Some find themselves dealing with children who are now participating in “online home schooling.” Others are discovering how isolating it is to be at home 24/7. I’m assuming that Netflix and other entertainment channels are seeing spikes in viewership, and I’m also willing to speculate that many of us are taking more neighborhood walks than ever before. We also witnessed an incredible reduction of pollutants in major cities in India and other parts of the world because people were following stay-at-home orders.
It has truly been an all-around unusual, bizarre, self-enlightening and reflective time. I encourage professional counselors, counselor educators and graduate students to think about how all of this could result in changes to the counseling profession. Might you need to become even more skilled at telebehavioral health? Will you be called on to work with those experiencing isolation and depression if we are again forced into this type of situation? Do we need to increase our advocacy so that rather than depending on emergency declarations by state governors to lift certain restrictions on your ability to practice, that these decrees become ingrained in laws and regulations? What role will professional school counselors play in addressing the many aspects of schools that close for extended periods of time?
We all hope that we will never again have to experience the challenges we have been facing with the COVID-19 pandemic. But we must be prepared for what we will do if something like this does happen again. Similar to moving from a pre-9/11 world to a post-9/11 world, we will now be living in a post-COVID-19 world.
Much will be written about how the world reacted to the coronavirus. I am strongly suggesting that we begin discussions as a profession that will result in “lessons learned” and agreeing to protocols that can be implemented in times of emergency. Reaching a common understanding for the profession is important, of course, but it is even more critical for the millions of children, adolescents, adults, couples and families with whom counselors work.
ACA volunteer leaders and staff mobilized the resources necessary to address the pressing needs of our members. For example, we provided 15 CE sessions, available to both members and nonmember counselors, at no cost (available at https://imis.counseling.org/store/catalog.aspx). This package included one session produced just as the pandemic was hitting, “COVID-19 and Telebehavioral Health: Ethical Considerations During a Public Health Emergency.” We were amazed that within the first 24 hours of our announcing the availability of the sessions, more than 7,000 counselors had signed up, and that number continued to grow in the ensuing days.
We heard from members who needed their states’ governors to lift restrictions that prevented them from continuing to counsel clients through telebehavioral health methods. Our staff created a sample letter for counselors to use to communicate with their governors about the challenge.
My hope is that all of you were moved or inspired by something you saw the counseling profession do during this challenging time. Please email me with examples of how the counseling community came together as the COVID-19 pandemic grew.
To each of you I wish the best of health and that the future will be brighter and more hopeful. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for your amazing work. Even my traditional signoff for this column has greater meaning.