By Brianna Stephens
When the counselors and staff of Christian Appalachian Project’s (CAP) Family Life Counseling Service left their offices in March because of COVID-19, they immediately jumped online that afternoon to provide the program’s first telehealth services.
While the change was quick and unexpected, Chris Griffith, manager of the program, said the staff was able to make a smooth transition from seeing participants in an office or facility setting to a virtual platform. After staff completed online trainings and other preparations for the shift, Griffith said all participants were able to be moved to telehealth services in under a week.
“We really haven’t missed a beat. The pandemic has created a greater need for services,” Griffith said. “We have been able to serve people in the same capacity, take on new participants, and serve the people that we were seeing already.”
Counselors have been working with participants to address issue related to stress, anxiety, fears, and general concerns related to the uncertainty added by COVID-19. In addition, because of telehealth, participants have been able to overcome the challenges they may normally face with in-person services, such as not having transportation.
Family Life Counseling Service is a small, outpatient mental health counseling program, providing individual, family, and group counseling services. It serves those with mental disorders, such as depression, anxieties, and post-traumatic stress disorder, with a targeted focus on working with family-related issues and trauma. The small but highly skilled staff serves on average around 1,000 men, women, and children each year, providing 4,000 service sessions.
“Telehealth was a service that none of our staff had provided before,” said Dale Hamilton, a counselor with the program. A telehealth-type service was being developed for the program prior to the pandemic, but it was still in the testing phase.
Griffith commended the efforts of Barry Powers, CAP’s IT manager, for his help in introducing the staff to Microsoft Teams, which has allowed them to continue to hold staff meetings, give and receive trainings, as well as perform counseling sessions and individual supervision and consults. There was a learning curve for staff and participants in the beginning, but both have adjusted to virtual services well, and participants are thankful they have been able to continue their needed services.
“Providing telehealth services has been beneficial for many clients,” Hamilton said. “It is important to continue these services because Central Appalachia experiences trauma at a higher rate than many other places in America. Eastern Kentucky, in particular, is underserved when it comes to the availability of mental health service providers.”
Since telehealth services have been so beneficial, Griffith anticipates that the program will continue. “After seeing how the platform has helped us reach participants even with all of the COVID-19 restrictions, we will continue beyond the pandemic,” he said. “We welcome any tools that help us address mental health needs so that we can meet our participants where they are.”