The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is far-reaching and has presented countless new challenges, especially in the mental health field. I have seen a significant rise in mental health problems and an increase in the severity of those problems. The pandemic also impacted the delivery of face-to-face counseling services because of social distancing.
Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Counseling master’s program also faced challenges in providing counseling practica for our students and free counseling services to the community, which had always been done in person before the pandemic.
Initially, as an experienced mental health and addiction clinician, I resisted the idea of transitioning our student clinic to telehealth services. However, telehealth brought many opportunities I had not previously considered, both for our counseling students and individuals without access to services.
In speaking with school counselors during fall semester 2020, our faculty became aware of their students’ increasing mental health needs and the lack of services. To help address this need, we connected with underserved schools in Minnesota and North Dakota to explore how the students and faculty in our program could help. After many positive conversations with school leaders, we partnered with the following schools to provide telehealth services in spring 2021: Hankinson High School, Devil’s Lake High School, Watford City High School, Parshall High School, White Shield High School, Harvey Public Schools, Warren-Alvarado-Oslo Elementary, and Nay Ah Shing K-12 School.
Each school coordinated the appointments with student counselors, provided computers and space for their students, and connected with MSUM student counselors on the services provided. After delivering 300 sessions to students age 7 to 17 in spring 2021, our school partners said they saw positive behavioral and emotional changes in students who received services. MSUM students said they received valuable clinical and telehealth experience, and they expressed gratitude that they provided services that made a difference in the lives of their clients. I echo this gratitude for the opportunity to work with schools across the continuum as a unified front to address the mental health needs of all students.
One of our students, Amanda Bushaw, shared with me what has become a sort of mission statement for our counseling program. Amanda told of how Marjorie, the school social worker at Nay Ah Shing, shared how one of their teachers (an MSUM alumnus) encouraged their students to seek telehealth services at MSUM. That teacher said, “The Dragons will take care of you.” We are grateful for the work of our students and our Community Outreach Center in transforming the lives of those we serve. Dragons will always work to find new and creative ways to take care of our communities.
The Community Outreach Center (COC) is a student counseling clinic located within the MSUM Counseling master’s program. It’s staffed by graduate counseling students and supervised by program faculty. People in Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding communities can receive free counseling provided by our students by scheduling an appointment at 218.477.2513 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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