It’s been a challenging couple of years
By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
The last two years have been a time of overwhelming change.
As the end of 2021 rapidly approaches, I think it’s a good time to look back at all the things we’ve been through. I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions, but I do think the holiday season is a good time to reflect on what’s happened over the last year and what direction I want to take for the year to come.
I lump the last two years together because 2020 and 2021 have been a blur in my head. I suspect these two years will blend together as we move forward. A lot of the things I think of as the sixties actually happened in the early nineteen seventies.
The pandemic certainly has affected everyone regardless of their feelings about Covid or the vaccine. What we have been through has changed a lot of people and changed the way we do things.
I’ve become convinced that some of those changes are likely to be permanent. I’ve made many changes in my life over the last two years. Some were because of Covid, and some for other reasons. Many of these changes were already in the works even before the pandemic. I want to summarize those events briefly here. Some of these I’ll write about in more detail in future blog posts.
Online education has become a viable option.
Over the years, I have taught five separate classes at two different colleges. Over the last two years, I have taught online classes for both colleges. Moving in-class material into an online format turned out to be quite a bit of work. Some students struggled with the online instruction. But a great many of them reported that it was preferable to the way we used to do it. I taught all but one of my online classes as an asynchronous class. Many said that they benefited from being able to do the work on their own schedule.
The feedback I’ve gotten from teachers who are working at the lower grade levels has been more mixed than my experience at the college level. Some students worked enthusiastically on their own and completed more assignments in less time than they would have in class. Other students struggled with discipline and fell behind. I’ve also heard multiple reports that students with anxiety disorders frequently turn off their cameras or refuse to attend online classes if they must be on camera. It will be interesting to see how the shift to distance education plays out.
I am now certified as an online teacher.
The early shift to online education was a rapid movement out of necessity. Then, as it continued over a longer time, the colleges began to emphasize distance education. Over the last two years, I have taken a series of classes and become fully certified to teach online courses. Personally, I prefer teaching online classes. It takes me a lot more work to create the materials. Still, it allows both the students and myself to go online and work on things whenever we have the time available rather than all of us having to make the long commute and fight for parking spots in order to be in a small classroom for the same three hours each week.
Both faculty and administration seem to be divided over whether we should continue to offer classes in the online distance education format. While some students will continue to benefit from the discipline of studying while a teacher stands over them, I think most college students would greatly benefit from the online format.
Counselorssoapbox is now a YouTube channel.
Part of the shift to teaching an online class was converting my PowerPoints and lecture material into a series of videos. I’ve learned a lot, and the quality of my videos continues to improve. One of the things I want to do in the coming year is become even more proficient at creating videos for the counselorssoapbox YouTube channel.
Some of my in-person trainings may become online classes.
In addition to academic classes of the last few years, I’ve done several in-person trainings for various groups. Putting on a training involves a lot of travel and leaves me tired for a week after. I have become increasingly aware of the number of online trainings or classes people are taking, many of which are taken for the knowledge rather than for college units or CE’s.
Over the last two years, readership on my blog has declined, while viewership on my YouTube videos has continued to increase. While I’ve been a lifelong reader, I find myself watching more and more videos. If there’s a topic you think I should cover in a video, please leave a comment.
The way we do therapy is changing.
When I first became a counselor, there was one predominant paradigm. Therapy should be done with one therapist and one client in their room behind a closed door. Many people avoided therapy believing that it was only for the seriously mentally ill. Today more and more people are going to see therapists for help with solving life’s problems.
Those who read my blog in the past are probably aware that I am engaged in a great many activities. For example, I do group supervision for a local nonprofit. Because of Covid, group supervision was moved to an online format. Although a few of the trainees reported missing the human interaction we had when we met in person, most report they prefer the online format for supervision. While a few long for a return to the days when we met in person, most enthusiastically want to continue meeting remotely.
It has been interesting to see the various reactions that beginning counselors and therapists have had to see clients online. While I think we were all initially skeptical most of us have developed the skills to work effectively using distance methods. For some clients, talking to their therapist over the Internet or by phone has made therapy more effective and more readily available.
More people are interested in mental health than in mental illness.
During the pandemic, I’ve done some work for several online counseling and therapy companies. This online practice of counseling seems to be moving in two separate directions. First, therapy that is paid for by an insurance company is becoming more medicalized. There’s an increasing emphasis on making sure the client meets the full criteria for a mental disease. I’m seeing more of an emphasis on having the therapist talks the client into taking medication. Insurance companies are also trying to reduce the number of therapy sessions the client may have unless they have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist or medical doctor and are on medications.
People who self-pay are more interested in reaching their goals.
To get treatment by a counselor or therapist paid for by an insurance company, you pretty much need to have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Most of the people who voluntarily seek counseling are looking at solving the problems of everyday living.
Several counselors have asked me whether it is okay to continue seeing the client who no longer meets the criteria for a particular mental illness but just really needs someone to talk to. My answer is that it’s not okay to bill medical insurance if the client no longer has a mental illness. However, I believe it is okay for a counselor to talk to a client each week if the client is paying and finding the sessions helpful. Sometimes this gets close to being coaching rather than counseling.
There’s a difference between being discouraged and being depressed.
They are having a problem finding a job; they would like to be more productive or better at reaching their goals. Medical insurance pays to treat someone who is depressed until they’re not depressed. Unfortunately, there’s a whole lot of distance between being not depressed and having a fulfilling, happy or contented life. As a result of working with clients who are not mentally ill but do want to have a more fulfilling life, I’ve shifted away from taking on more insurance clients and seeing more clients who are willing to pay for private counseling. If you live in California and think that talking with me might be helpful, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. Besides being licensed in California as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT.) I recently took a class to get certified as a life coach. In future posts, I want to talk more about the differences in what those three professions do.
I’ve concluded there’s too much focus on illness and not enough on happiness.
Over the last ten years, I’ve written over 1900 blog posts. Many, but not all, of those posts, have focused on specific diagnosable mental illnesses and their treatment. I’ve also written a lot about substance use disorders and how those interact with mental illnesses, a condition known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnoses. In future posts, I want to focus more on how to have a better, more productive life. If there’s a topic that you would like to see covered, please email me using the contact me form.
Were you wondering what happened to my fiction books?
Getting through the pandemic and making this career pivot derailed my plans for writing more novels. I have one nonfiction book and six fiction books, which continue to be available from Amazon. I’ve taken a couple of classes in fiction writing over the last two years and hope to get back to a series of novels I had planned to write, which got crowded out by learning to be an online teacher, learning to make videos, and all the other skills I’ve been developing over the last two years.
Increasing my emphasis on personal relationships.
Over the last two years, I have spent less time in the classroom, office, and consulting room. Instead, I have found it important to put more time and effort into maintaining my friendships and close relationships. As I have gotten older, a handful of close personal relationships have become increasingly important to me. I hope that all of you are putting effort into maintaining your relationships with those who are the most important in your life.
Sorry for the long post. Stay tuned for more to come.
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Great post. This one has me questing my decision to find another career away from counseling. Thanks for the encouragement over the past two-plus years.
Thank you for your comment, Chris. I’ve learned across my lifespan that being satisfied with the job I’m doing is a combination of factors. There is what you’re actually doing on the job, and then there is where you’re working and the working conditions. Finding a job that gives your life meaning and purpose while still making enough money to support yourself and/or a family is one of the key challenges for many people in this millennium. I plan to write some additional posts on that topic over the next year.