Catholic Charities Report
Counselors Help Those Dealing With Stress, Isolation
By Gary Bouchard
It would be hard to find someone who hasn’t struggled in some way during the Covid pandemic. Even for those who did not suffer extended illness, lose a loved one, or become unemployed, the pandemic brought disruption, isolation and the tensions that come with living in close quarters for long periods of time.
For the last 17 months, Catholic Charities NH’s Mental Health Counseling Services has been on the front lines of assisting people with these struggles by quickly adapting to a telehealth service that enabled counselors to meet with clients over the telephone or computer.
“When the pandemic first started, many new clients were coming to us with fear and anxiety about the future. As time has progressed, many people have been seeking help for depression and anxiety due to isolation. Humans are social creatures and it has been difficult for many people to not be around their support networks,” says Danielle Capelle, a licensed mental health counselor who works out of CCNH’s Concord and Manchester offices.
The increase in clients has been of two kinds. “Many have found that this is a good time to seek services because they have the time and can do it from home, but others are seeking services because that is their only outlet during this pandemic. We have seen a large increase in couples counseling since the pandemic started and families have been isolated at home together,” she says.
As the pandemic dragged on through last winter and into spring, Danielle notes, the longer-term challenges of providing counseling virtually instead of in person became more apparent. Besides practical issues like reaching people in remote areas with poor internet connections, or trying to assist clients who have small children learning from home, and little privacy to talk, the most significant challenge, she emphasizes, has been that neither the client nor the provider have been able to be in a different space outside their home.
“When I treat people in person they are in the place where they are receiving care, and I can tell them ‘Leave your anxiety and your depression here. They will be here when you get back.’ But when people are having sessions in their homes, they do not get the opportunity to leave their issues in my office and decompress before going home. Instead they are remaining in the same environment that’s causing the anxiety,” Danielle says. Providers face the same predicament. “When you have to go into an office, it is easier to leave work at work. When you work from home, there is no decompression time as you are living in your office. At one point during the pandemic, my desk was literally right next to my bed … My work became inseparable from my personal life.”
One of the benefits of telehealth counseling has been the increase in the number of people reached. “Individuals who may not have been able to get counseling before are able to access it from home, work or even their car, any place they have some privacy to talk,” she says.
What has been lost during this time, Danielle says, “is a sense of connection with the client. In person, you can see their body language, facial expressions, little signs of anxiety and so on. Over the phone, you only have their voice tone to focus on and, over video, you only see a small portion of the client."
Still, she emphasizes, “the goal of counseling is always to heal, comfort and empower. That will never change. As therapists, we strive to help people help themselves. Many people have turned more towards prayer and their faith during this pandemic. That has been a source of comfort and strength for many.”
As for where we are now, Danielle observes that “people are still carrying fear. There’s been a huge increase in anxiety about being with people in general.” She recommends that people who are struggling with such issues look into counseling services. “We don’t only go to the doctor when we are dying, we have preventative care. The same can be said for therapy. You don’t only have to go when you are in a crisis, but checking in regularly for maintenance and preventative care is highly beneficial. The more people normalize mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, and normalize the therapy that can help them, the better for everyone.”
The pandemic and its challenges have, Danielle says, affirmed the work that she and her team at Catholic Charities do. “We have the opportunity to help those who are struggling by allowing them to learn about their struggles, learn how to cope with those struggles, and how to prevent those struggles in the future.”