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CHSP's Department of Social Work deploys telehealth support, outreach in midst of pandemic

CHSP's Department of Social Work deploys telehealth support, outreach in midst of pandemic

During a time in which social distancing and remote learning have quickly become the new normal, the College of Health Sciences and Professions' (CHSP) social work students and faculty at Ohio University, and professionals across the country, are leveraging technology to help ensure that face-to-face counseling can continue to play a vital role within their profession.

The technology, more commonly known as telehealth, has enabled social workers at OHIO, and across the nation, to continue to provide personal outreach in numerous ways, including: online counseling, telephone counseling, videoconferencing, self-guided Web-based interventions, electronic social networks, mobile apps, automated tutorials, e-mail, text messages and a host of other services.

Kerri Shaw, field director of the social work program, said the use of technology has created new outlets and ways to interact and communicate with clients; she also noted that both social work students and professionals have quickly transitioned to using technology to continue to safely serve their clients and communities amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Justice Riley, a licensed social worker and graduate assistant with OHIO’s Survivor Advocacy Program, said that leveraging telehealth has enabled the organization to provide service and support during a time when it is needed more than ever. 

“We are using multiple platforms of communications, via phone and or video conferences; we are also available to provide support and information via phone for survivors seeking a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) exam at the hospital,” Riley said. “Getting used to a new form of communication is always hard. Now, clients report getting used to their online classes and our telehealth methods. The clients reported being very happy to have the continued support from Ohio University and the services we provide.”

Kaitlyn Thornsberry an MSW graduate student with the Hopewell Health Center, is leveraging telehealth along with recently delivered therapy packets for child clients.

She said that it can be difficult to keep a child’s attention for a full session, but she has had success with older children through art therapy supplemented with therapy packets that she compiled and delivered to mailboxes and porches for families to utilize during this time of social distancing.

“This experience is providing students with opportunities to practice flexibility, solve problems and reflect on ethics and policies in new ways,” Thornsberry said.

Another CHSP social work graduate student, Alyssa Lambert, is utilizing telehealth services to address mental health and chemical dependency needs in women who have suffered human trafficking.

“I’ve learned how crucial it is to have human interaction and support for clients. Since NA and AA meetings are largely closed down now, things have become much more chaotic at inpatient settings,” Lambert said. “These meetings provide the clients with support outside of their counselors and peers which is so important.”

Lambert said clients have quickly adapted to online meetings. One client even started her own session.

“As students adapt to this quickly changing landscape of service provision in rural areas, social work students are finding that feedback from clients is mostly positive -- they understand the importance of flattening the curve and appreciate the structure and support it provides during these uncertain times,” Shaw said.