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UM Moves More Mental Health Services Online

By Anna Margaret Foster
Journalism student

As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to spike and in-person contact remains strictly limited for the foreseeable future, many Americans are now accessing mental health counseling remotely through teletherapy services to help cope with issues arising in quarantine.

The University of Mississippi Counseling Center has been working for months to apply this service to the entire campus community while still maintaining best practices for students, faculty, and staff of the university.

“The unfortunate introduction of COVID-19 has sped up the implementation of Tele-Mental health as a way for us to continue to care for our clients,” said Katie Harrison, senior staff counselor at The University of Mississippi’s Counseling Center. “We have purchased extra equipment and programming as well as provided training for all our full-time staff in the span of only a few weeks in order to continue to provide the best care for our clients.”

According to Harrison, Tele-Mental health therapy works mostly the same as person-to-person therapy, with a few slight modifications.

“Clients are sent a private invitation link to each session by the clinician, and the session begins once the client and clinician are both logged on,” Harrison said. “There are measures put in place by the clinician for a crisis, emergency contact person, and if technology fails,” she added.

The Clinic for Outreach and Personal Enrichment (COPE) is a part of the University of Mississippi Counselor Education Clinic, which allows master’s, specialist, and doctoral students training on how to provide counseling services to children, adolescents, college students, and adults. They treat a variety of issues such as depression and anxiety, and the University of Mississippi’s Counseling Center will typically refer clients to COPE when needed.

Dr. Alex Kerwin, Clinical Coordinator for COPE, is leading efforts to offer counselors-in-training the ability to get their clinical hours through online Tele-Mental services. Tele-Mental Health is a new service that COPE will implement on April 1 in response to the recent COVID-19 crisis.

“All counselors-in-training and supervisors at COPE are required to take a 12-hour online training regarding Tele-Mental Health before they are permitted to see clients using this modality,” Kerwin said. “It’s imperative for us to address the training piece before moving forward with any new service.”

Dr. Kerwin explained that on top of the already present daily struggles of life, social isolation during quarantine could lead to negative impacts on mental health, with feelings of loneliness and depression often occurring.

“The uncertainty of the current crisis has everyone feeling anxious for a number of reasons: health, safety, finances, children, and more. It seems like every aspect of life is being impacted right now,” Kerwin said. “The situation can also exacerbate unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse, overeating, and excessive screen time,” she continued.

“The COVID-19 emergency prompted the program to take a closer look at the mission of COPE. While the clinic is here to serve the community, our primary mission is to train our graduate students,” Kerwin said. “Currently, we are trying to maintain a level of homeostasis before accepting new clients. We want to make sure our students are properly trained and prepared to provide quality Tele-Mental Health services to the Oxford-Lafayette and university community.”

University of Mississippi alumni and master’s student in Mental Health Counseling at Lipscomb University, Tess Efinger, says that the implementation of Tele-Mental Health will be an essential service in the future of counseling and medicine.

“I believe that tele-mental health and the ability to conduct therapy sessions over the phone are very crucial for many clients. For some, it’s a simple matter of not having transportation to get to a counseling or doctor’s office. Then there are situations such as this COVID-19 pandemic keeping everyone in the safety of their homes for health precautions,” Efinger said.

“I do believe it is not the same thing as meeting with a therapist face-to-face,” Efinger continued. “However, for many people, having an hour of therapy every week or two is necessary to maintain and encourage good mental health. I plan on implementing tele-mental health and phone sessions whenever my clients deem it necessary. I want the best for them and to maintain a positive therapeutic relationship with them all even when we can’t sit in a room together.”

To schedule an appointment with the University of Mississippi’s tele-mental services call the University of Mississippi Counseling Center at 662-915-3784 or email counslg@olemiss.edu. Phone lines are open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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