With many students learning remotely this fall (or spending limited time in the classroom), it’s now much more difficult (even impossible) to deliver mental health counseling at school. Last spring, many were disappointed in the results from virtual counseling. Here are some tips to help students get the most benefit from virtual counseling this time around.
Use the right online platform
Doxy.me is a simple and free virtual solution that’s designed specifically for Telehealth and is HIPAA compliant. Zoom and Google Meet are useful when you want to have screen share capabilities. However, these options require a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with the entity (the school district) to be considered HIPAA compliant. Check with your Business Administrator or Technology Director to determine if this is in place.
Try new outreach tactics
School counselors may need to think outside the box to communicate with students and schedule counseling sessions, especially for students who forget to check their email:
- Call parents or guardians at home
- Ask for permission to communicate with the student on his or her cell phone
- If privacy is a concern for the student, try using a private texting app
- Send messages via Google Hangouts or Google Voice
Empower parents/guardians to provide support and hold students accountable for their education and emotional well-being.
- Copy parents on outreach emails to students, so everyone knows when appointments are scheduled (and so parents can reach out to you with any questions or concerns).
- Ask parents to remind the student the morning of a scheduled session.
- Confirm the best phone numbers and email addresses to reach parents, and who to contact in case of an emergency.
Collaborate with teachers
Just like school-based counselors, teachers are challenged with their roles switching from in-person to virtual interaction with students. Everyone will need an incredible amount of patience, flexibility, collaboration, and creativity to succeed this year. By working together and bouncing new ideas off of one another, we can figure out what works best for different populations of students in a virtual setting.
One of the most important pieces of working in a therapeutic role is respecting the confidentiality agreement between yourself and your student. If a private office space is no longer available, ensuring privacy for an online session can sometimes be difficult. A student may share a bedroom with siblings, or have parents walking in and out of their room during their virtual learning day.
- Remind families that students will get more from counseling when they have a private space at home for virtual counseling sessions.
- Advise students to wear headphones, and ask others within earshot to do the same to avoid hearing the conversation.
- Suggest that students try using a white noise app or playing soothing sounds on their phones to increase privacy during a session.
- During virtual sessions, check the situation by asking, “Where are you at this moment?” or “Can anyone hear our conversation?”
Manage expectations & share resources
Students and families may need to be reminded about your availability as a school-based counselor. Students may reach out via email late at night when you are no longer working. You don’t want a student in crisis to be waiting for a response when you are not available.
- Remind students and families about when you can respond to messages and meet with them. Share the days and times you are available for drop-in sessions and crisis intervention.
- IMPORTANT: Provide every student with 24/7 resources they can turn to if you are not available and they need urgent assistance. Resources can include Crisis text line (741741), National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-TALK), and 2nd floor youth helpline (888-222-2228).
Develop a routine
When working from home, create a work-like environment that fosters a high level of focus and attentiveness.
- Dress like you are going into the school building.
- Ensure that you have a consistent internet connection in your workspace. This might mean setting up closer to a router or modem.
- Give yourself a lunch break as you normally would during a day in the office.
- Take frequent breaks away from the screen. Try taking a 5-minute walk outside.
- Inform household members of your office hours to avoid frequent disruptions.
Keep sessions fun
The most important part of connecting with children and adolescents, whether it be in person or virtually, is building a strong rapport. Playing games and activities can be a strong way of starting a conversation and building trust.
Here’s a great resource that shares ideas for games and activities that can be performed virtually (as well as in person).