By Carol Stenger, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Spiritual Director at Samaritan

#Covid #counseling #spirituality

Covid-19 may not be what kills you, but some folks may die because of it. What do I mean by this? I have several elderly clients who live alone or are in a high rise where no one is permitted to visit them – not family members or neighbors. The lifeline I offer them is my weekly counseling session to make sure that they are still eating, caring for themselves, are emotionally stable, and are safe within their immediate surroundings.

In addition to physical needs, these seniors need to know that they “count,” that they are loved and valued. Initially folks were able to manage a few months of isolation. But when things were not improving, or hope weaned for them because they could not return to their former social events – like card club, meeting family and friends at a restaurant, or just being allowed to sit in the lobby of their high rise – it took a toll on their mental health. My clients' church services were cancelled, and although some services were lived streamed, these elderly people don’t have computers or tablets. Thus, they become even more spiritually isolated.

I continue to offer my services, bringing them hope in the midst these long days, weeks and months. I pray with them and for them, and encourage them to believe that God lives in their hearts. I remind them that they do matter and are important, and that together we will live beyond Covid-19 and not die due to isolation and loneliness.

We can and must be there for one another, especially those most vulnerable, like our elderly clients.

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The coronavirus was something that I never knew would happen in my lifetime. We all remember 911 and its devastating impact on our country

and humankind. That event was life changing in both positive and negative ways. Homeland security and the manner in which we conduct our everyday lives would never be the same.

However, it was a blessing to witness Americans banning together putting our differences aside. Random acts of kindness increased in this time period. I also recognized how precious life is and the importance of strengthening my faith in God.

The coronavirus pandemic sparked a similar reaction in us. In turn, it has significantly affected how clients cope with crisis and our therapeutic approach in treatment services. The first adjustment I remember when setting up my home office in March was how telehealth would affect my work as a mental health therapist. At this time, everyone was new to the coronavirus and how serious this pandemic would become in our daily lives. My clients were explaining their fears in great detail during these sessions. The biggest one, the fear of the unknown, was voiced as we were all just getting information about the virus and the safety measures to protect our health.

When the “at home” orders were put in place, I noticed a great increase in anxiety, depression, addiction, domestic violence, aggression and other mental health challenges. Simply put, being with loved ones 24/7 was taking a toll. The issues that existed before the pandemic were magnified. It was difficult for us to manage our fear in positive ways. My clients were gaining weight, self-medicating, and “taking it out” on their family.

I then noticed a turn of perspective from May into June when summer started this year. My treatment still focused on processing my client’s anxiety/fears and developing positive coping skills to avoid regression. It also deepened into a discussion about why this pandemic happened in the first place. Many Christian clients felt that it was God’s way of “slowing us down and making us re-prioritize our lives.” Others felt that it was “the end of the world” and a time for self-reflection.

Overall, my clients (and myself) began to self-evaluate. Clients were encouraged to put their energy into completing neglected household projects, re-discover their personal interests/talents, and create a sanctuary in their home to reduce stress. I was pleased to hear that people were also reconnecting with loved ones, recognizing that life is too short to hold grudges. In quarantine, families spent quality time together and regained a newfound appreciation for each other. I hope that telehealth is here to stay. Many clients enjoy the convenience of this mode of service.

As therapists, we have to be open to change to accommodate such events. Our self-care is important in being a healthy support to our clients. This also prevents compassionate fatigue. Personally, I am grateful for the community of therapists that surround me for encouragement and guidance. In my self-reflection, I have re-prioritized, deepening my appreciation for good health, loving relationships, and my faith in God. We must always remember that God will never leave or forsake us. Historically, tough times have brought out our strength. I am hopeful that this event will be no exception.

Learn about Jennifer Edmonds.

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By Tom Kneier, Licensed Professional Counselor

Humility. Webster says it derives from the Latin, humilis, for the word humble, meaning “lowly, insignificant, on the ground”; similar to the Latin word, humus – rich soil. It generates a picture of getting close to the earth; even in the dirt. For those of us in the field of therapy, it might conjure up the word “grounded”. And this is most appropriate.

Being grounded in the therapeutic setting is about being attuned to the present; giving full attention to the moment. I’ve seen my clients, who suffer from anxiety and overwhelm, preoccupied with the future and worst case scenarios. What if this happens? What if she does that? What if I can’t (fill in the blank)? Their worry is fueled by tomorrows that are completely outside their control.

Many effective interventions are rooted in refocusing clients on the present. Things like deep diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and attentiveness to what is being experienced through the five senses at that moment in the room and in one’s chair, including feeling your two feet firmly planted on the ground.

What an apt concept for humility. When your two feet are on the ground, you can see where you stand in relation to others and to the rest of the world. You know who you are, and who you are not! I know that when I see myself accurately this way, I am profoundly humbled.

Phillipians 2: 3-4 instructs us to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (NRSV) To be truly grounded then in humility, is not about thinking little of yourself, but seeing yourself accurately in the service of others.

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