Help is now just a call – or video chat – away, as the University of Holy Cross’ Counseling Department recently announced it is now offering free telecounseling for all Louisiana residents.
Dr. Roy Salgado Jr., a professor of mental health counseling at UHC, said this is the first time in the university’s history the counseling service is being offered in a non-traditional format.
“The history of the services we’ve provided up to this point have all been face to face,” he said. “I can’t imagine us going backward … I would imagine from this point forward we would be offering both options.”
During this time of coronavirus-related social distancing and isolation, all UHC counseling sessions are being conducted by UHC counseling staff, faculty, master students and doctoral students via HIPAA-compliant teleconferencing software.
Before coronavirus precautions prohibited face-to-face counseling, UHC sessions served the 10-parish metropolitan area around New Orleans and sessions were $20 a visit. The phone call and video nature of telecounseling means residents around the entire state of Louisiana can benefit from the free service.
“We need to train our students to provide a continuity of care,” Salgado, who is a licensed professional counselor – supervisor and licensed marriage and family therapist – supervisor, said.
Over 200 people were regularly seeing UHC counselors at the time of the office closure, and Salgado said it was important for these people to continue to receive counseling for their anxiety, trauma, depression and other mental health concerns.
“The University of Holy Cross and our founding Marianite nuns are still, after 104 years, committed to caring for our community and being a shining light in an ever-changing world,” UHC President Dr. Stanton F. McNeely said. “This free telecounseling program was set up very quickly by our counseling department to provide immediate and continuous access to those who may be struggling in these uncertain times.”
The counseling sessions are being offered Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. by calling 504-398-2168, and officials say they may expand the hours and add Friday hours based on demand.
Residents can call during these hours to speak about their current mental issues, get tips to maintain sanity during social distancing and/or isolation, and talk about any long-term psychological effects they may experience from the COVID-19 crisis. The nature of the session, however, does not have to be coronavirus related.
Clients of all ages are welcome, Salgado said, adding because counselors often use play therapy for children that video calls may be more productive for those sessions. If not, counselors can talk to children over the phone as well.
For people not familiar with counseling, or those apprehensive to try, Salgado said the anonymous nature of a phone call, as well as the fact that it is currently free, makes now the perfect time to try counseling because there is nothing to lose.
“Making yourself vulnerable to someone else is something that is normal to feel apprehensive about,” he said. “But there are times that all of us struggle with a thought, behavior, or emotion that we can’t manage ourselves … through counseling, many people can get solutions to problems sooner by talking things out with a trained professional.”
Once initial contact is made between a client and counselor, weekly or bi-weekly appointments with the same counselor can be set up.
Organizers would like to remind the public that the telecounseling phone line is not meant to be an emergency response line, and anyone experiencing a mental health emergency should call 911.