By Diana Leyva Jacob
Caitlin Lassiter, a Trevecca senior, sits in her bedroom, careful not to disrupt her roommates, and prepares for her online counseling session.
Lassiter is one of many students to access counseling remotely on campus since August.
To lower the risk of contagion and abide by COVID-19 regulations, counseling services have moved completely online. Students can request a session and meet with a counselor via Telehealth.
Sarah Hopkins, director of counseling services, said since COVID began she has seen an increase in loneliness and people struggling with how to access good resources and support during this time.
“Anxiety and depression are typically the number one causes of counseling referrals on any college campus, but I think now we’re seeing this increase in loneliness, because it’s hard to access people in the same way as we did in the past,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins said there were lots of challenges initially since it was something that had never been done before.
The biggest challenge has been clients being able to find confidential spaces, she said.
“There was automatically confidentiality when you were coming into the counseling center because you were meeting in one of our rooms, but now if you’re in a dorm room or something like that I think some of our students have trouble finding places they can meet without people,” said Hopkins.
Students are grateful for the opportunity to still attend counseling, even if it is just online.
“Obviously, we all wish things were different, but for the time being, the counselors are doing the best they can and they’re doing a really good job of still giving us the resources and tools to go to counseling,” said Lassiter.
Counselors in the center said they have also been surprised by the benefits of online counseling.
“It’s nice to have the cushy office, it’s nice to feel comfortable, it’s nice to have a designated safe space, but in reality, it’s just a conversation and that can happen anywhere. So, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well therapy still works even if we don’t have the face-to-face contact,” said Graduate Counseling Intern, Molly Lubin-Fosha.
Graduate Counseling Intern,Pamela Bean, said one of the upsides to online counseling is being able to see client’s facial expressions much clearer and closer, as opposed to if they were sitting 6 feet apart and masked.
Online counseling isn’t that different from face-to-face counseling, said Hopkins. Students and clients have been working well through the medium and the feedback has been positive, she said.
However, there are still several challenges to providing mental health services on campus during this time.
The counseling center can’t provide services to students outside of Tennessee, so for out of state students who have elected to study remotely, this makes them ineligible for services.
The scope of practice is limited when it comes to Telehealth, specifically in terms of suicide since there are various kinds of suicidal ideation, said Lubin-Fosha.
If someone is actively planning on harming themselves, or has a severe mental health issue, the center is not equipped to properly treat them over Telehealth, as it is all about getting the adequate resources for each individual client.
Even if the center doesn’t have space for students, or can’t provide the necessary treatment, Hopkins said they will always provide off campus referrals. There are other places students can find help.
Both Bean and Lubin-Fosha see therapists of their own and want students to know they are experiencing everything that they are. The first step to online counseling is showing up. Although it may be scary and difficult, it’s normal to see a therapist online, they said.
Requesting an online session is similar to requesting a face-to-face session. Students can inquire via the Trevecca website and are then screened for Telehealth.
“If someone decides to show up, we can make anything work. We’ll get there. It’s just taking that first step and I want to validate that it’s a really hard step, but it also gets easier from that point on,” said Lubin-Fosha.
“If there’s anybody who’s on the fence about wanting to go to counseling, but they feel like they have reservations about it because it’s online, I would say it’s worth giving it a try. it’s important to be taking care of your mental health right now,” said Lassiter.