The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a forceful period of transformation for the healthcare field, as economic pressures and safety concerns have intersected with medical and mental health needs. In response, healthcare organizations are pivoting to offer multi-layered treatment plans with a focus on telehealth.

Across the country, organizations have tasked telehealth directors, managers, or telemedicine program coordinators with implementing an ethical and practical telehealth transition plan. But directing a telehealth program is a complicated endeavor; few practices are prepared to effectively launch compliant, large-scale telehealth operations. Professionals in these roles need to understand the full scope of managing telehealth services (from strategy to implementation and evaluation). Learning about these competencies can help directors avoid pitfalls, maximize efficiency, invest in a long-term utilization plan, and increase satisfaction for customers and clinicians.

The jurisdictional structure of the counseling profession has hampered counselors and their clients for decades. Differing state licensure requirements associated with educational coursework, supervision hours, and professional examinations have fragmented the profession since the founding of the American Counseling Association (ACA) in 1952 and continue to impact counselors. An easy, straightforward answer to this dilemma has eluded industry decision-makers for years, but a professional reformation is underway—set in motion by a three-year investigative study, true portability for counselors is possible.

Four mental health experts recommend ways to manage compassion fatigue and burnout for behavioral health professionals.

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For our December installment of the Behavioral Health Toolbox Series, we covered a topic that is near-and-dear to many of us as we transition into 2021: compassion fatigue and burnout among healthcare professionals. The Telehealth Certification Institute Toolbox Series delivers live virtual webinars on telehealth topics facilitated by experts in the behavioral health field. Our webinars are practical, immersible, and driven by your interests.

Four panelists contributed to the December discussion. Sarah Dooling, a registered play therapist and instructor in San Diego State University’s MSW program, took an inventive approach to coping with pre-COVID triggers and current stressors. Sara advised practitioners to create a Resilience Kit with tools that will keep you well. Sara’s suggestion highlighted one of the webinar’s primary goals—optimizing creativity while creating new self-care routines. As Sara described for viewers, using transitional objects, such as a piece of paper with the names of your personal support squad, can act as a visual indicator.

Couples counseling is stressful during normal times – two people struggling to keep their relationship alive, and pinning a lot of hope on their therapist. Even “good sessions” – with both partners working hard on the relationship – are often filled with a double-dose of painful emotions. 

When COVID-19 hit, couples therapy became even more complicated. Many therapists switched to telehealth to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Now, partners are in their own home (together), and the therapist is miles away peering at them through a tiny camera.

Sue Johnson, the developer of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT), wrote that her first response to the idea of online couples therapy was “total disbelief.” In an article published in the November/December 2020 issue of Psychotherapy Networker Magazine, Johnson said that until about 18 months ago, she “simply refused to consider it.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, telehealth became a necessity for many communities across the United States as a means of mitigating the risk of virus transmission and accessing healthcare in a timely manner. Telehealth has expanded access to healthcare in many communities across the country which previously lacked access to such healthcare, including Native communities. On April 8, 2020, the Indian Health Service (IHS) announced an expansion of telehealth across all facilities.

Providing mental health using telehealth requires all clinicians to take extra steps to make sure their clients are safe during sessions, and that they are in a private location where no one can listen in.

But providing telehealth services gets even trickier when you are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and your clients are young sexual abuse survivors. Some may even be living with their abusers.

Patsy Fuller is a counselor in Louisiana with more than 10 years of experience. She’s worked with clients coping with severe mental illnesses, addiction, and childhood sexual trauma. She’s currently with Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, or S.T.A.R, an agency that supports survivors of sexual trauma.

Fuller was working with addicted clients at a psychiatric hospital when she discovered that many of her clients also had a very different issue.

Patrick Hendry is a pioneer in the peer mentoring field who has spent three decades promoting the benefits of peer support in the behavioral health workforce. He has witnessed the problematic medical model that too often demoralizes or dismisses the needs of mentally ill individuals. Peer support workers develop meaningful rapport with their peers by telling them, I’ve been there too!

As the Vice President of Peer Advocacy Supports and Services for Mental Health America, Patrick has used his own lived experience with a mental illness to help others who are starting or continuing their recovery journeys. Patrick delivers training and national advocacy projects for peer specialists and professionals with a focus on human rights, social inclusion, peer support, peer services, and self-directed care.

Michael Cappiello, LCSW, is the President of New York State’s NASW Chapter (NASW-NYS) and introduces students to the best online educational platforms for their learning experience. Michael puts his MSW training to use every day across the social work spectrum as NASW-NYS president, a school social worker for the NYC Department of Education, and through his own counseling practice. 

Schools have hit their newest paradigm shift with the unexpected appearance of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students who relied on structured in-person classes are struggling to adapt those skills to the online learning space. Michael’s social work background explains this predicament through the gold-standard biopsychosocial model. As a frequent user of mental health assessments, Michael places equal emphasis on each part of a student’s life. His student-centered approach moves the conversation away from the child’s psychological symptoms and towards broader explanations for their educational challenges.

Sheela Ivlev is an Licensed Occupational Therapist who understands the relationship between emotional and physical pain. After completing her practical training in the psychiatric field, Sheela saw how unresolved emotional stress wears down the physical body. Now through her practice, Sheela offers occupational therapy for adults with disabilities, mental illnesses, clients with pain disorders, and individuals on the autism spectrum. 

Occupational therapists are trained to assess both the emotional and physical health of their clients, but not all professionals maintain this integrated perspective. Sheela’s main goal is to help her clients with all of their occupations, any activity that enriches their life and brings them deeper meaning. Sheela’s clinical perspective is thoughtful, holistic, and always puts her clients first. 

COVID-19 has necessitated that schools nationwide protect the safety of staff and students by offering crucial academic and behavioral health services through telehealth. In October 2020, the Telehealth Certification Institute hosted a webinar titled, “Telehealth in School Environment- Meeting Student Needs Amid Covid-19” which featured experts on telehealth and behavioral health in the school environment. This webinar sought to equip educational professionals to meet the needs of students in a constantly-evolving virtual environment. This webinar also included CE hours for mental health professionals and covered information such as issues of justice within virtual learning environments, how to relate with stakeholders virtually, and best practices for implementing virtual assessments. Participants had the opportunity to submit questions throughout the session and panelists answered questions live during the webinar.