Supporting Clients during COVID-19: Role Expansion and Skill Improvement
By Jesse Brady
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on the career development and paths of professionals in a wide variety of fields, particularly in mental health careers. Due to the shifting demands placed upon professionals in both mental health counseling and career counseling, individuals are motivated to learn new skills and expand their role responsibilities to accommodate a changing lifestyle and workforce. Specifically, the career development of residential case managers and mental health professionals has expanded to include additional skills and responsibilities due to the rapid changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. These newly developed skills can be applied to the field of career counseling as well.
Many nonprofit organizations have ceased operation of a variety of programs and furloughed staff over the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these changes, mental health agencies with residential services are considered essential and staff members have continued working during the COVID-19 pandemic. Residential services departments provide housing to clients with severe and persistent mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, with various levels of care. Without other members of the treatment team readily available, it has been necessary for residential case managers to take on new roles to ensure the mental stability and safety of the client population. Residential case managers have had to adjust to provide more supportive counseling and utilize counseling strategies differently during the COVID-19 pandemic. These shifts in mental health counseling positions reflect potential shifts in other areas of the field of counseling, specifically career counseling. In many cases, clients are meeting with career counselors to discuss job loss, furloughs, or a shift in career but are also burdened with a variety of other anxieties related to COVID-19. With over 26 million Americans filing for unemployment in only the past five weeks, career counselors will most likely see an increase in clients (Chiwaya & Wu, 2020). While stepping into new roles during a time of crisis is stressful, it has allowed residential staff to learn transferable skills.
Basic supportive counseling techniques are commonly used by residential case managers, but there are specific strategies that have stood out as especially helpful for this population during the pandemic that may also benefit career counseling clients. Two such strategies are validation and maintaining a routine.
Validation is useful for all clients but can be especially useful for case managers and career counselors alike during the pandemic. Many clients with schizophrenia are often reality tested by case managers when exhibiting paranoia, as some of their fears are not reality-based (Gentile & Niemann, 2006). In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain fears pertaining to the virus or to accessibility of services are rational. Case managers have been validating these concerns and educating clients that concerns about the pandemic are not a sign of decompensation. Similarly, career counselors must be able to validate their clients’ concerns about the job market and the fragility of employment due to shutdowns caused by COVID-19. Increased levels of anxiety over the safety of going to work in addition to job insecurity can be validated by career counselors in a way that make clients feel heard and acknowledged.
Residential case managers have been maintaining their reality-testing skills during the pandemic to acknowledge client concerns while also providing education to prevent concerns from morphing into increased anxiety. Acknowledging a client’s fear is important to allow the client to feel heard, but case managers cannot feed into their fears further, especially not in a novel situation (Gentile & Niemann, 2006). Incorporating education can benefit career counselors in their validation of clients during the pandemic, as well. Career counselors must stay abreast of developments in the shutdowns caused by the pandemic, as well as job opportunities that remain available at this time. Offering this information to clients while also validating their concerns may temper client anxiety and instill hope.
Maintenance of Routine
Some of the main concerns of many residential clients has been coping with drastic changes in their schedules and increased time in isolation, which are concerns that may be shared by many career counseling clients. Clients have expressed increased restlessness, anxiety, and even boredom due to remaining in their residences and maintaining social distance from peers. Clients of career practitioners are facing similar hardships, especially when they may not be physically entering their workplace because of closure, or, if they are at their physical workplace, feeling anxiety over the potential for contracting the virus.
To combat the uneasiness that accompanies this disruption, residential case managers have been attempting to keep clients’ schedules in other areas as consistent as possible. For example, case managers are supervising medications at regular supervision times, taking clients food shopping at their usual days and times, and suggesting activities for clients to perform while in isolation. Clients may find comfort in doing activities that remind them of their typical schedules. This is also true of career counseling clients who may benefit from maintaining their personal work schedules, despite working from home. Encouraging career counseling clients to continue to wake up, get ready, and act as if they are going into their workplace may help to reduce anxiety, depression, and a feeling of lost purpose.
Future Directions for Career Development
The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed residential case managers to increase their skills in supportive counseling in a way that could be beneficial to their careers in the future. Additionally, the skills that have been especially useful for clients during this time are simple enough that they could be implemented during any time of increased stress, be it a national emergency or a client’s personal concerns. Utilization of validation and schedule maintenance may allow clients to feel heard, respected, and soothed during events they fear and may have no control over. These techniques and skills can be adopted beyond mental health counseling and incorporated into career counseling practices when working with clients during times of global crisis.
Chiwaya, N., & Wu, J. (2020, April 14). The coronavirus has destroyed the job market in every state. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/business/economy/unemployment-claims-state-see-how-covid-19-has-destroyed-job-n1183686
Gentile, J. P., & Niemann, P. (2006). Supportive psychotherapy for a patient with psychosis. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 3(1), 56–61. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990549/
Jesse Brady has been a clinical case manager in the residential services department of a North Jersey mental healthcare agency for four years. Jesse graduated from The College of New Jersey in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and has since returned to The College of New Jersey in pursuit of a Master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. She is available via email at email@example.com.