article
May 01, 2020

Skilled counselors tap new technical skills on union webinar

Author: Liza Frenette
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Not so long ago, school psychologists, social workers and school counselors worked individually or in groups with students struggling with a situation at home; with grades or bullying in school; with their self esteem or with an eating disorder or addiction. Now, they work with students across the lens of a phone camera, a computer or a tablet.

To assist providers with this new way of connecting in the time of COVID 19, NYSUT’s Social Services department hosted a webinar with three experts, along with a representative from NYSUT’s Research and Education Department, who provided information on the challenges of telecounseling with students and families. Two hundred NYSUT members joined the 90-minute session.

The panel discussed the dos and don'ts, how to include families in sessions when appropriate, concerns about confidentiality and billing.

“The range of concern is enormous,” said Ani Shahinian, a social worker who directs NYSUT’s Social Services program. “Counselors are working harder than they’ve ever worked, and yet feeling frustrated about how to engage with students satisfactorily, including concerns about intruding on students and families personal space.”

NYSUT Social Services

NYSUT’s Social Services provides information on resources for union members who are struggling with emotional, physical, financial or mental health problems for themselves or a family member. The new phone number for the service is 518-732-6239.

There are technical glitches, static, interruptions, lack of privacy, shyness and hesitation around talking about personal pain on a screen. Many students have no access to technology.

Participants raised issues such as access to students, privacy, and policy. They were urged to follow their district’s platform guidelines and to document their practice.

Shahinian, a member of the Professional Staff Association, said NYSUT would continue to develop ways to connect school counselors, social workers and psychologists so they can brainstorm and solve problems together.

She said school mental health professionals need to make sure they are not victims of vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue as they deal with heavy fallout in students’ lives from the pandemic.

“There are seniors grieving the loss of their senior year; adolescents who don't want to talk on the phone or on Zoom,” she said by way of example. Young children do not understand why they cannot play with friends. Students can feel trapped and alienated. Some families are suffering economically; others have a family member who is sick or died from the virus.

Panelists on the webinar were Lysa Mullady, an elementary school counselor who is a member of the Copiague Teachers Association; Linda Guttman, an MSW in private practice who works with family therapy and narrative therapy, and Patricia Spataro, licensed mental health counselor, former director of Employee Assistant Program who has a private practice and also uses online counseling.

NYSUT’s Social Services provides information on resources for union members who are struggling with emotional, physical, financial or mental health problems for themselves or a family member. The new phone number for the service is 518-732-6239.

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