Doing the Tough Things
Counseling couples is not the easiest thing, but it is what I love. Even though many interns I’ve had shy away from this modality I make them take on a few anyway. The funny thing is, as they practice the techniques and embrace the theory, a few of them really start to shine. Practice makes almost-perfect, right? Sure enough, after a few hundred hours, they are ready to start careers as marriage and family therapists.
That’s how we all started. Now we take a few CEs each year to keep the skills sharp and continue growing. Maybe we change it up a little and add supervision or EMDR training later in our career, but it’s at OUR pace, on OUR timeline.
Covid 19 disrupted all that. Terms like ‘social distancing,’ ‘quarantine,’ and ‘shelter in place’ barged into our day-to-day vocabulary. Compliance forced mental health professionals to make a choice: quickly learn how to relinquish the comfort of our office and transition everything we know to telemedicine, or close up shop.
This isn’t the first disruptor we’ve seen in my part of the world. Ike (the hurricane not Tina Turner’s ex) threw quite a wrench into my practice several years ago. It was surreal. I can remember driving with Dave down streets with post-apocalyptic damage, raiding the refrigerators of evacuated neighbors (with their permission of course), and looking at the destroyed façade of the ten-thousand-seat Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion from the top floor of my parking garage (because of course I was trying to go to work). My practice was closed for days; we had to cancel trainings; and I started wondering if being an entrepreneur was worth it. Nevertheless, we persisted.
Cycling on a Tightrope
This time is different. Counselors and teachers can’t just ‘move everything online.’ There is a part of us, who we are and what we do, that just doesn’t translate. Of course it can be done, but so can riding a bicycle on a tight rope. Even an excellent cyclist is going to need to face down a learning curve before riding thirty feet in the air.
To complicate matters, counselors and supervisors in private practice don’t have the support of a large university or school system to help ease the pain of transitioning to online. There are ethical issues to face as we strive to deliver services and ‘do no harm.’ We are scrambling to get trained, find non-glitchy inexpensive software, communicate with clients, and deliver quality services, all within the span of a few days.
Good counselors know if we don’t do this right, we could hurt someone or lose our business.
I am an excellent cyclist but on this ‘online tightrope’ I have found myself definitely wishing for training wheels. This week I conducted a session where the screen completely pixelated 10 minutes in so I was basically counseling abstract art, a client decided to get dressed thinking they were off screen, and a couple recognized quickly I couldn’t play traffic cop to their arguments from thirty miles away. I could go on, but if you are a professional counselor reading this March 19, 2020 you probably have stories of your own.
The best training wheels for my profession are supervision, education, and community. Here are some things to help you save your business and ethically do your job:
Get some training.
I was planning to list trainings in this blog, but since the idea began brewing a few days ago, so many trainings have popped up you can probably find better ones than I can. Texas MFTs must have technology training but LPCs and LPC Interns are playing catch up.
Invest in decent software.
I too was using the free version of my telemedicine software until it crashed on Monday. They were surprised too, I think. So, I ponied-up and paid for a pro version. If telemedicine isn’t your love, then don’t do the annual subscription; do monthly and un-subscribe when you’re ready to head back to the office.
Join a community.
Whether you love or hate social media, right now groups are where it’s at. Facebook has Online Therapists of Texas; there are many regional counseling groups; and of course there are my groups Texas Supervisor Training and Texas Counselors Creating Badass Businesses. This is not the time to be shy and lone-wolf this shit. That’s when mistakes happen.
Embrace the suck.
This is hard on everyone. You are sad, mad, angry, frustrated and so are your clients. If you aren’t used to dealing with your own emotions, you’re going to be dealing them now. Go outside. Take a walk. Pet your dog. Join your online community and feel part of something again.
These are crazy times but we are strong, we have resources, and we can do this. Follow the good advice of excellent trainings. Read blogs. Join groups on social media. Do SOMETHING. Social distancing is robbing us of our movie dates, Margarita Fridays, weekend retreats, and Zumba classes. Don’t let it rob you of your livelihood.