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We all face daily challenges in today's complicated and demanding world. ACA’s Counseling Corner Blog offers thoughtful ideas, suggestions, and strategies for helping you to live a happier and healthier life.

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Apr 14, 2021

Counseling Awareness Month: Let Us Celebrate and Recognize Those Paving New Paths Toward a Healthier Self

Each year, we dedicate the month of April to recognize and honor the outstanding and invaluable work of counselors across the nation. Throughout the year, and especially over this last year, counselors have worked tirelessly guiding and encouraging others toward a healthier and happier future. This April, as we pass the one-year anniversary of a global pandemic that has rocked our lives, we do so with a more profound understanding of the dire need for counseling in our everyday lives. We all remember the seemingly sudden closing of schools, transitions to working from home, non-essential closures and adapting to the new, uncertain normal. For so many, this unprecedented crisis meant job loss, financial instability, fear, anxiety and a looming sense of uncertainty that lingers on. Rising to the challenge, counselors across the nation worked endlessly to answer the call to action and form cohesive treatment plans, calm frantic callers and instill a sense of peace and resilience to those struggling to adjust to the new normal.

Counselors and mental health professionals faced the same issues everyone else did in the beginning of the pandemic. How do we offer our valuable and needed services while also protecting the most vulnerable and adhering to new government and health recommendations? The solution was simple: use technological advancements to make therapy accessible and safe for anyone in need. During March of last year, when non-essential businesses closed and our health was made vulnerable by merely stepping outside, telemedicine became the new norm for counseling and mental health care.

Telemedicine is the process of providing healthcare from a distance using technology, often through video conferencing. When much of the U.S. went into lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-office intimacy became impossible across nearly all professional disciplines. Although telemedicine was new to so many of us in the early days of the pandemic, many health care professionals (including mental health professionals) had already begun to embrace this new way of seeing patients. Virtual counseling is a modern way to receive therapy through a secured platform to facilitate video sessions, ongoing direct messaging therapy or a combination of both. Virtual counseling and telepsychiatry involve direct interaction between a counselor or psychiatrist and the patient. As a result, online counseling experienced a boom during the pandemic, and its popularity among users indicates that it’s likely to be a staple post-pandemic.

Last year, mid-pandemic, the American Psychiatric Association surveyed its members on the frequency in which they held tele-psych sessions both before and after the onset of the pandemic. The results were astonishing: prior to COVID-19, 63.6% of respondents did not use virtual sessions at all. After the onset of the pandemic that figure plunged to just 1.9%. Conversely, before COVID-19 hit, only 2.1% reported using tele-psychiatric care 76-100% of the time. Currently, this figure has soared to 84.7%.

This responsive move towards online therapy may have been an effect of a much larger cause, yet the benefits to both practitioners and patients have been insurmountable. For starters, there’s the convenience and availability. Online counseling has made getting the care we need as easy and available as opening our laptops. No longer are we faced with the hindrances of commuting and time wastes in between sessions. Furthermore, communities living in rural outskirts of cities are now benefiting from the same resources available to more populated areas as applied to online counseling. Finally and most importantly, peer-reviewed studies have shown that remote therapy or “teletherapy,” which is generally done through video conference, can be just as effective as in-person therapy for treating post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety.

Essentially, the pandemic has set in motion a positive mental health revolution, making care available, convenient and, in a way, less daunting for those who may experience anxiety at the thought of an in-person meeting in a formal setting.

Thus, in the spirit of positivity and silver linings, let us honor our counselors who, by providing services both in-person or virtual, have helped us navigate not only these tumultuous times, but our personal growth and obstacles. Here’s to the counselors who work long hours breaking down mental health stigmas, offering guidance, encouragement or just a listening ear. Here’s to hoping there are better mental health days ahead for us all. 

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