This week we hear from one of our senior clinicians about his experience working with clients during the coronavirus pandemic. Bryon Powell has a BA in Psychology, a BA in Religious Studies and a minor in Philosophy; a Master’s Degree in Pastoral/Community Counseling from Loyola University in Maryland; and is an LPC in the State of Virginia with advanced certifications in addiction, trauma, and trauma treatment.
I found Bridging the Gaps by “accident.” I did my first internship for my Master’s at the VA Hospital in Martinsburg, WV in their residential PTSD unit (PRRP). For my second year internship, I specifically sought out places that offered addiction treatment. BTG was local and it turns out that I knew the clinical director at the time. I was accepted as an intern in January of 2011. The “supposed quick two semesters of an adjunct skill” turned into a full year and half of intense learning academically, clinically, and personally. I watched this talented, dedicated, and supportive team transform so many people with shattered lives piece by piece.
I had found the type of counselor I wanted to be: genuine, heartfelt, compassionate, able to hold space for someone in excruciating pain, with the ability to be firm and direct when needed.Bryon Powell, MS, LPC, CAADC, CCTP-II
I graduated and began my residency at a community mental health facility. Professionally, I needed the wider lens and experiences associated with general mental health. However, I continued to stay connected at BTG running the Continuing Care program on Tuesday nights. Once I became licensed, I was offered a full time position that I promptly took – eager to once again be part of such a powerful and effective team.
A lot has been done in a short amount of time. Telehealth is the biggest change, but just about everything in my daily routine is different. I have found that the pace of change has been challenging, and the degree of uncertainty unsettling. The complexity of the unknown makes things especially difficult for both the staff and the clients. As a clinician, I have faced the difficult task of balancing work, family, and personal needs all while maximizing health and safety for myself and others.
Our Telehealth education sessions, where I’m providing a group of clients with information, have been easier in some ways. The video platform we’re using has helpful highlighting tools that we’ve not had in our regular group room settings, and I feel this makes my presentations more impactful. In addition, the sessions are generally a bit smaller which gives each client more time to ask questions. I also have more time to answer their questions and I can better personalize the experience for clients by providing web links to relevant resources immediately from my PC to the connected client.
As I noted earlier, our education sessions are easier, but our group therapy sessions have been more challenging. In our process groups we facilitate clients to talk with the group about their personal experiences. While video communication over the internet is a great tool, it is not without glitches. There can be a few seconds of delay when someone starts to speak that changes the cadence of our discussions. This can be awkward for individuals when trying to relate their personal feelings and experiences. Sometimes limits on internet bandwidth results in an outright loss of connection for a client for more than a few seconds. If this happens when then a client is speaking they can become quite frustrated. It makes my job as the facilitator of the group quite a bit more challenging.
Another challenge is that our groups have been smaller which can be somewhat limiting in a process group in that the number of experiences shared is not as rich, and therefore the interaction may be less effective. Our work is based on developing and maintaining strong emotional connections with our clients and this is harder without in-person sessions. We are finding that as the new medium challenges us, we’re adapting our facilitation skills. Often this means practicing more patience to help our clients feel as comfortable as possible.
We’re all looking forward to getting back to normal, but we’ll have to go through a “new normal” first. Our sober living / PHP clients are getting a mix of telehealth and in-person counselling. We want, and need, to expand that as we find that for many clients the residential component is very important to provide structure in their early recovery. Right now, our IOP clients are all joining us through our telehealth platform. BTG has been discussing a possible “hybrid” where a few clients would be with us in-person and others would be connected through telehealth. We haven’t worked out all the bugs yet, but hope to get there soon.
We also need to figure out how in-person group sessions will safely operate. Masks are important, but part of the clinical process is about emotional connections and a mask works against that. Like I said, we need to figure that (and a number of other things) out before we can take steps to get our IOP clients with us in-person on a regular basis.
I’m looking forward to the day that we’ll be back to our normal residential treatment model, but in the meantime, we’re committed to doing everything we can to be available to our current and prospective clients. If you or a loved one is looking for treatment, please reach out to our admissions department to see what services are available in this rapidly changing environment.