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Floyd Else, MA, LMHC (ret.), NCC, MAC

Therapy During a Pandemic

Author: Floyd Else, MA, LMHC (ret.), NCC, MAC

Posted on April 22, 2020

Webmaster comment:  A few weeks ago, I had trouble sleeping.   With the stay-at-home orders from governors and the president, and the social-distancing movement saying to stay 6 feet apart, to avoid transmitting the virus, how was this affecting the current Licensed Counselors/Therapists and Social Workers in the Counseling Washington Counselor Directory? Are they able to serve clients?  How prepared for this are they?  Are they able to counsel remotely; are they able to accept credit cards?  Are clients still trying to contact them for help?

What about the graduate school Master’s Degree students in the various counseling related programs (is the school closed; are they having remote classes?).

Finally, what can I do to help everybody through this? Generally, I see my role as providing helpful information on my site. So what can I do to help serve my subscribers in this situation? (It was keeping me awake.)

It is good to recognize that we are all in this together.  We are all, counselors, clients, students, educational bodies, anxious about the future, and what’s coming next.  Is it going to get better or possibly worse?  And what about “flare-ups” when we let down our guard?  And what about the problem of asymptomatic virus carriers?

Experts are reminding us daily that “hand washing remains important, but to avoid getting sick, the public should focus on staying away from other people.”

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(An aside): The local daily newspaper is my regular indulgence, a great source of in-depth information.  Local newspapers are also being hurt by the pandemic as it closes stores and restaurants and cuts off the paper’s source of advertising revenue.)  I recommend you subscribe to your local paper, and support the important investigators and reporters who provide the facts we need to know, in order to keep our democracy informed and functional.  https://seattletimes.subscriber.services/

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So, to be of service to our counselors, my associate, Lisa, and I have been working behind the scenes to improve the Counseling Washington website and, better-than-ever, serve those of you who are currently doing on-line counseling, whatever platform you are using.  It’s not a quick process as it involves additional programming in our data base, and visible changes to our web pages.  

We plan to survey to all our counselors, to find how they are meeting the challenges of the new normal, and gathering the information together in an anonymous form to share with all our counselors.

It is important to realize that face-to-face counseling will be difficult for some time.  Even when the stay-at-home order is lifted, the on-going fear of infection will make people reluctant to sit in an office with a counselor.

As an example, let me share my recent experience of going to a physical therapist for treatment of an aching arm. 

Even though they told me they were wiping down the treatment bed, between uses, I never actually saw anyone in the office actually doing any wiping down of surfaces.  When I came into the office I often saw staff members congregating behind the intake desk.  After several treatments, I called the physical therapist to tell her that I was discontinuing treatment.  And I suggested to her that as soon as a client came into the office, one of the staff should get busy wiping down the next treatment bed to be used, even if it had already been disinfected-- just to reassure the client.

I share this story to emphasize that for some time, clients will still be leery of possible infection delivery of face-to-face counseling and the process will need to evolve slowly as the opportunities to face-to-face counseling increase.  For example: I can see telling the arriving client that you have wiped down office surfaces, and then handing the client an alcohol wipe and saying, “You’re welcome to wipe down any surface that concerns you.”   And I would put a small empty waste basket near the client’s chair.  I would try to provide six feet of space between myself and the client when seated in the office.

I much prefer face-to-face counseling as opposed to on-line remote counseling.  But I cannot see using some of the recommended precautions, such as: sitting across from a client with both of us wearing facemasks — it’s too important to me to see the expressions on my client’s face!   Or having a vertical sneeze-guard between myself and the client. 

So how do you imagine face-to-face counseling in the future?  Your comments are invited below.

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