The Community Counseling Center (CCC) at Florida Gulf Coast University has gone remote, but it is still focused on keeping people connected. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the CCC recognizes the need for mental health counseling. The center is accepting new clients for telecounseling sessions to help them navigate challenges from the comfort of their homes.
“Many of us are struggling with how long this has gone on, and we’ve experienced a lot of loss. The loss of independence, the loss of being able to make our own choices, the loss of being in a room with someone or offering someone a hug,” said CCC Director Alise Bartley. “This is an opportunity for us to talk and come up with ways to make sure we are connecting with others.”
Bartley says her team worked quickly to switch to telecounseling. Counselors saw their last clients in person at the CCC March 14. Within in two days, sessions began online.
“We knew that for us to be able to provide quality services to our clients, along with the training to our students, we needed to make a shift. A very abrupt shift,” Bartley said.
The CCC is open to the Southwest Florida community. The fee is $25 an hour or whatever you make an hour – whichever is less – to make counseling affordable to all. Potential clients will also take part in phone assessment to make sure the services the center offers are the right fit.
“We are taking it week by week. We want to be back on campus, but we want to make sure everyone is safe,” Bartley said.
The term “social distancing’” has been coined as words to live by during this pandemic. While its meaning is connected to safety, Bartley believes the phrase can be misleading.
“We should not be socially distancing right now. We need to be certain we are staying connected with others. We need to be physically distant from people to keep everyone safe,” Bartley said.
Graci Tipton is a graduate-student intern at the CCC in her final semester of FGCU’s counseling program. She is one of seven student counselors providing remote therapy sessions to clients.
“Telecounseling has been a sudden transition and one that our supervisors have helped us navigate. The CCC has been able to adapt and accommodate as best as possible to keep providing our clients the best care possible during this time,” she said.
The CCC serves as a learning lab for counseling students. A focus group led by the CCC found students would rather meet with a client face to face, but Tipton sees the switch to online sessions only expands her skillset as society moves toward telehealth.
“Telecounseling has definitelyhelped me grow as a counselor and has given me the ability to add a new skill to my toolbox during a time where it is important to accommodate our clients,” said Tipton.
Technology can be challenging, but Tipton says her clients are thankful she is still able to provide care during a time that has become stressful and uncertain.
“One of the major benefits, in my opinion, is the accessibility for our clients. Most clients can have a session with the counselor from their location without having to commute to the office to see the counselor,” said Tipton.
The CCC is accepting about 20 new clients. Learn more about the CCC or to make an appointment, go to its website.