Why Counselling is more important now than ever!

Posted by on April 27, 2020

Written by Emily Macgregor, RP (Qualifying).

It’s a strange time. The ground is shifting beneath our feet, and it can feel like a constant struggle to figure out how to adapt. Even though we are now a few weeks into the novel coronavirus pandemic, for many of us it still feels like a weird, new time.

Almost everything we do in person has been cancelled, so we’re trying to find ways around that.

We can’t see our friends in person, so we FaceTime or text more often. School activities and hobbies like sports and music have been cancelled too. We’ve been forced to change our habits, without knowing how long this will last.

For teens, spending time with friends and feeling independent are very important. The current pandemic directly challenges both of these things. How can we feel independent while at home with our families every day? How can we feel connected to our friends if we can’t hang out in person?

Being a teenager is a time when everything – and especially our emotional experience – feels a little more intense. One unique thing about stressful situations (like the one we’re in right now), is that they tend to bring up issues that we may not have been paying a lot of attention to. In a way, it’s like stress makes them peek around from behind the corner to tell us ‘hey, I’m still here.’ We notice this when we start feeling some of the more difficult emotions, like anger, frustration, and anxiety. We may also have trouble sleeping or start eating differently.

This is why the period we’re in right now is a golden opportunity to start counselLing. It’s a chance to gently and kindly focus on some of those issues that have resurfaced in the face of stress.

We always have a choice of how to respond to a crisis. Counselling can help you become more aware of how you are feeling, so that you can act – even through small steps – in ways that promote your mental health. When our mental health is stronger, we feel more prepared for challenges. We feel more resilient and less out of control when things become difficult.

Challenges and Solutions to Online Counselling

For many, meeting with a therapist over video or phone chat can sound like an awkward, unnatural experience. Counselling is a personal experience – won’t it feel weird to meet through a screen? Wouldn’t it be weird for my therapist to see me at home? What if someone in my house overhears my conversation? In this already stressful period, meeting with a therapist online can seem like an extra challenge on top of everything else.

Online counselling is something most of us have never tried! As humans, meeting in person is the natural way to do things. Technology can feel like a weird barrier to having a meaningful counselling session. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a strange experience. In fact, many people prefer the online format, since they can meet from the comfort of their couch, bed, or wherever!

Below are some common concerns and solutions our clients have found most helpful.

Using technology for something so personal is new for me. What is it really like to do video counselling sessions?

Meeting through a screen is certainly a new experience for most of us, including counsellors! However, we have found that once clients try the video sessions, they have found it to be a positive experience.

One key reason is that clients are in their own homes, rather than in a therapy room. For most people, being at home feels safe and comfortable. This might help you become more relaxed in the overall therapy process, and find new areas you want to explore. In this way, meeting online might actually make your sessions more effective in some ways than meeting in person.

This is a new experience for all of us, but with a tiny bit of patience, it can be just as rewarding as meeting in person.

What if someone overhears my session?

This worry makes a lot of sense, especially since most of us are in close quarters with other people.

  • We recommend finding a quiet, private space in your home, such as your bedroom.

  • Some of our clients also go for a walk during the session. This can be a good solution since it allows you to get some exercise and space for yourself, in addition to the counselling session.

  • You can even get creative and use a closet or a room that doesn’t get used much. Any low-traffic area is best, so that you can feel fully present for the session. In addition to these strategies, letting others know that you’ll be busy for the length of the session helps to prevent interruptions.

  • If you feel comfortable, let others know that you will be in a counselling session, so that they know not to disturb you. Headphones are also a great idea in keeping the session private.

Are the video sessions private, even if they are over the Internet?

In a word – yes! We have carefully chosen a secure, private, and confidential video platform whose parameters adhere to the ethical standards of our licensing bodies (such as the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario and the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers). Only you and your counsellor will have access to the session.

How I’ve Been Coping

Even for us counsellors, this feels like a strange time. I myself have noticed that COVID-19 has impacted my mental health. I have had to readjust my expectations of myself and change the way I do things day to day. There are moments when it is hard to stay hopeful and patient in the face of so much uncertainty and change. For me, I focus on three things: feeling in control, being a friend to myself, and focusing on staying present.

Here are a few things that help me, and may be useful for you too.

Regain a sense of control.

These days, it’s easy to hyper-focus on all of the things that are out of our control. Whether it’s when we can return to school or work, when we get to see our friends and loved ones again, and whether someone we know will get sick.

However, focusing on these things usually makes us feel more anxious and doesn’t help our mental health. What can help is to focus on what we can control.

I like to ask ‘what can I do right now, today, or this week?’

For example, I know that washing my hands helps limit infection. I also know that limiting how often I talk about or read the news helps lower my stress. I can’t exercise the same way I could before, so I go running and do workouts in my living room.

These are all things I can control. Similarly, I can’t see my friends in person, but I can talk to them through video, phone calls, or texts. None of these things are the same as what I would normally do, but they help me feel in control during COVID-19, rather than COVID-19 controlling me.

Being a friend to myself.

I try to be a friend to myself in two ways.

  1. First, I try to allow both positive and negative emotions to be there, and to ask what I need in the moment, the same way a friend would. Trying to stop a negative thought or emotion (for example, by thinking ‘I shouldn’t feel this way) often makes us feel worse. Instead, I practice just allowing myself to feel whatever I feel. It is ok to not be ok. If I feel more anxious, I can pick an activity that I like, such as watching a funny video or going for a walk. If you notice that your emotions are very strong, it can help to reach out to a close friend or family member. For me, remembering that no emotion lasts forever helps to stop myself being swept away.

  2. Second, I am gentler with my daily expectations for myself. My productivity is not the same as normal these days since I am using up more energy on stress and coping with the current crisis. It can be easy to become frustrated when we think of all the things we could normally do in a day. But these are not normal times. Adjusting my expectations for what gets done each day can relieve some of the pressure for productivity.

Staying present.

Similar to feeling out of control, it’s easy to focus on all of the uncertainties of the future. This generally worsens how we feel. It also takes us away from the present moment.

Finding ways of bringing myself back into this minute, this hour, or this day helps me feel more grounded and less scattered.

  • Name things around you using your 5 senses. You may notice things you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell. This re-centers the mind to focus on what’s going on now, rather than focusing on things (the future) we don’t know much about.

  • Physical activity, such as yoga, a workout, or walking also turns our attention back what’s going on right now.

  • Use hobbies, like playing an instrument, reading, or crafts. Any activity where we are focused on what is in front of us helps to avoid running away with anxious thoughts and feelings.

Leaders have been reminding us: that this is something that we all, as humans, can and will control and get past.

Similar to each member of an audience clapping in order to create a loud applause, it takes each and every one of us to get past this unique situation.

It is certainly a scary and difficult time. I would guess that nearly everyone wishes they were going about their normal lives again. But the hopeful aspect is that the solution lies within each of us. We don’t have to wait and rely on someone else to fix this. It is in all of our (well-washed) hands.

We see this as some countries start to lift restrictions after millions of citizens took it upon themselves to stay home. We see this as infections rates go down after we wear masks and practice social distancing.

It is encouraging and empowering that we, as the human race, are coming together to fight this. In a strange way, this virus is bringing us together in a way nothing ever has, creating new connections, support, and positivity. That gives me great hope.

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