With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, this seems to resonate now more than ever. Many people have been wondering when things will get back to normal—or at least what the old normal was. These “important things in the world” don’t need to be major things affecting the world as a whole. For the counselor, what you do for your clients is for them the “important things in the world.”
The mission of the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association is “to promote the professional wellbeing of mental health counselors in Illinois through advocacy, education, and support services, and thereby contribute to the good of society.” Now, more than ever, mental health support for individuals is crucial. It is not only important, but essential that you as a mental health counselor educate yourselves on the different moving parts involved in this COVID-19 pandemic. The reason for this is two-fold: you need to make sure your business is taken care of; and you need to make sure you are best able to help your clients.
The first reason it is important to educate yourself on the moving parts involved in the COVID-19 pandemic is to make sure you are taking care of your own business. In this time, it can be so easy to retreat into yourself and put off things you need to do because everything in the world is overwhelming. Perhaps as a mental health professional, you are too emotionally drained from supporting others to do anything else. The anxieties surrounding all of the unknowns can make it so easy to just hide behind a mask and put off things you need to do. Don’t put yourself through that and make things worse for your future. Use this time for resilience and growth, and take charge of your life, both personally and professionally. Use this time to empower yourself and your clients. Lead by example.
There are many different areas in which you should educate yourself—for not only your benefit but for the benefit of your clients. Perhaps this means going over new topics you have never reviewed before with your clients (such as if they owe child support or maintenance, or what is going on with their student loans) to help them realize different areas where they should be taking action, or where they may qualify for relief. It is not that you are advising your clients what to do but simply ensuring that they consider what areas action may be taken or required. Below is a checklist of topics to be addressed during the pandemic:
● Small business support through the Small Business Administration
● Extension of filing and due dates for 2019 taxes
● The Family First Act as it relates to employment
● Unemployment for furloughed employees
● Medical insurance options
● Modification of support obligations in Family Law matters
● Increase in domestic violence
● Estate Planning and advanced directives requirements
● Caring for seniors
● New options regarding retirement funding
The above checklist is by no means exhaustive, but you should also be reviewing this with your clients. They may not realize all the different things they should be looking at to take care of business. But it is important that you educate yourself first. On an airplane, they always tell you to put your own mask on before helping others with theirs. This is no different. Help yourself, so you are better equipped to help others.
Gwendolyn J. Sterk and the Family Law Group, P.C. has been putting out daily blog articles to help educate members of the community on issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics of some of our blogs include budgeting during a crisis, the CARES Act, what is going on with retirement accounts during COVID-19, and how to protect your mental health during the pandemic (written by a mental health counselor). Our goal with these blogs is to educate others about certain topics in connection with COVID-19, and to encourage them to empower themselves with options. In addition to the blog articles, Attorney Gwendolyn J. Sterk has been doing Zoom interviews with professionals in the area and asks them questions about hot topics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which are later uploaded and premiered on Facebook. So far, she has interviewed a health insurance broker to discuss insurance options during the pandemic, an employment law attorney to discuss questions employees and employers may have at this time, and an estate planning attorney about the different options for estate planning.
In order to be an effective mental health counselor, you need to make sure you’re educating yourself on the multitude of issues surrounding COVID-19. You can better serve your clients by assisting them to empower themselves to learn about various areas of their lives that may be affected by this pandemic, and giving them some guidance on where they can turn to help themselves. You cannot pour from an empty cup, so make sure you are also taken care of in these unprecedented times.
First Published in the Summer 2020 IMHCA NEWS UPDATE A DIVISION OF THE ILLINOIS COUNSELING ASSOCIATION
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