Change of direction? Or am I just lost?

Change – Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com   

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Someone seems to have turned up the speed on the merry-go-round.

If you are a subscriber to the counselorssoapbox blog or a regular reader, you probably noticed that I missed posting my regular Monday mental health posts for the last few weeks. I have been posting pretty regularly on Mondays ever since 2012. But with all the changes over the last year and having produced more than 1800 posts, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to come up with new topics every Monday. If you have questions you’d like to pose, please send them to me, and I’ll try to work that into future posts.

Now seems like a good time to tell you about some of the changes I’ve been through over the last year. Some of these changes, I think, are predictors of what life will be like in the future. My future anyway.

Moving my classes online has been a challenge.

I typically teach 2 to 3 classes per semester. A little over a year ago, when Covid was raging, and any solution to the pandemic seemed far off in the distance, the safest thing to do, particularly for somebody my age, was to hunker down and avoid going out where you might be exposed to the virus.

Just for the record, I think of myself as a relatively young 73-year-old. While I am now fully vaccinated, I am still being cautious. If you’re wondering, I took the two-dose Moderna vaccine. The only side effect I experienced was a minor muscle soreness at the injection site.  I usually get the flu shot every year, and the Covid vaccine was not much worse than my annual flu shot.

So, what’s different about teaching online?

Some of my students did exceptionally well in the online format, and others did not. If you’re internally motivated, online education has a lot of advantages. Online education varies considerably. Since I teach for two different colleges, I experienced at least four different ways of doing online education. To further complicate this picture while converting my own classes to an online format, I was busily taking several courses in how to teach online.

Synchronous versus asynchronous classes.

One of the classes I taught was synchronous. Every Monday night, I met online with a group of graduate students, and I ran through my PowerPoints and delivered my lecture via Zoom. The students were asked to read the chapter in the textbook before that night’s class session. After I was done, there was plenty of time for students to ask questions, and occasionally, we even had a lively discussion.

Two of the classes I taught at the City College were set up as asynchronous. Each week’s work began at 12:01 Monday morning and was available to students until midnight Sunday night. Just as in the regular classroom, the students had a section in the textbook to read each week. I also used a weekly discussion question to see if students were participating. Students frequently got into lively discussions with each other about the weekly discussion question. Answering the discussion question counted as attendance in class. If you didn’t comment on the question, you are absent that week.

Students in the asynchronous class also had a brief quiz each week. The material on the quiz or similar questions reappeared on both the midterm and the final. I hoped that if I tested a student often enough, they would retain the material even after the class was over. Quizzes and tests had time limits though most students didn’t require the full allotted time. Initially, I had some worries about students googling or checking the textbook for answers to the questions. But I quickly realized in the time they had to do it; they couldn’t be doing much looking for answers.

How did the students do when learning online?

When we got to the end of the classes, both the synchronous and the asynchronous, the grade distribution was pretty much the same thing I had seen in my regular in-person courses. Students who read the book, answered the discussion questions, and submitted the required paperwork, received relatively good grades. Just as when we were in the classroom. Students who failed to participate during several weeks, did not do the assigned quizzes and discussion questions, or did not turn in the required term paper, receives substantially lower grades.

What was the biggest challenge I experienced in teaching online?

The largest challenge both for students and me was technology. Between taking online classes and teaching online at two different colleges, I had to learn many different technologies.

Just a short list of the new technologies I had to learn. I’ve used Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Canvas companion, and Zoom. Each one had a learning curve, and switching from one system to another in the same week sometimes gets confusing. But if an old guy like me can figure it out, I think college students and high school students should be able to.

What have I learned about online classes?

My conclusion about online classes is that if the students are motivated to learn the material online learning can be every bit as beneficial as in-class sessions. Some students need in-person or individual encouragement, which is easier to do when you see them each week in class. If someone is taking an online class and needs help, they should reach out to their instructor and let them know they’re having difficulty. Of course, having reliable access to technology platforms and the Internet is essential. I also think both teachers and students need more help in learning the platform they’re going to use before they launch into remote education.

Is online education a second-class method?

Not at all. I think I learned just as much, possibly more, in the online classes I took as I used to learn using in-class education. I found it very convenient to teach online, and many of my students reported that it worked better for them than having to drive to and from campus. I can see from the logins that some students worked on their assignments during the day, some worked late into the night, and some students primarily completed their assignments on the weekend. The flexibility in learning when you have the time and for me in grading assignments when I had the time was very beneficial.

Like all the other technological advances, I think it will take some time for this to be absorbed into our culture. It was a real challenge for me to learn to use a cell phone and then learn to receive and send texts. But now that I know how to do all those things, I’m not sure how we ever got by without them. I firmly believe that we will see a time in the future when online–distance learning is just as common, maybe even more common, than in-class learning.

Were the main changes in my life over the last year moving into the field of online education?

Don’t I wish? Just as the pandemic impacted education, it has also had an immense effect on the counseling field. Over the last year, I’ve been doing online or distance counseling and doing group clinical supervision remotely. Because of not being physically present, I’ve also learned to pre-record material and create videos. If you’d like to look at the videos I’ve produced so far, please check out Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel.

The frantic pace of the last year has also significantly influenced my writing. I’ve had less time for writing blog posts, and the two books I was working on have not made it to completion at this point. I’ve been seriously rethinking what I want to write, given the limited time I have and the messages or themes that I want to write about.

In future posts, I’ll talk to you a little more about all these other changes.

Please feel free to leave comments about this blog post and about how this last year living in a time of Covid has affected you. You can either use the comment box or send me a personal message using the contact me form.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Internet Counseling?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Computer

Internet.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Update – 2020.
This post was originally written in 2014. My how things have changed. The COVID pandemic has forced counselors, therapists, and educators to rethink the way we do things. In the beginning, there was a lot of resistance to working online. But when forced to do so each of these professions has developed new methods for working in a different way. Below is the post as originally written in 2014. In the near future, I will be publishing some new posts about the changes that have come about as a result of working online.

Can you get counseling or therapy while sitting at home?

There are still some big ifs, and’s, and but’s about internet or remote distance counseling. I can see some good points in favor of this approach. There is also some serious buyer beware issues.

The Internet is a new technology and so far most mental health professionals have been reluctant to adopt this one. There are some serious concerns on the part of licensing boards and professional associations about the ethics and the safety of this method.

The mental health profession has come a long way from the days when the client lay on the couch and the therapist sat behind them. In the old model, the client talked and the therapist listened. Sometimes the professional said a lot of “Um-hu’s” and “I see’s” and spent the rest of the time doodling on a pad and daydreaming. The belief was that the client if they talked long enough, might figure out the solution to why they were having this difficulty and what they should do.

This approach also presupposes that most of your problems are left over unfinished business from childhood.

Nowadays most counseling is a lot more active and focused than the old psychoanalytic model. We do more direct interventions and we have more responsibilities to keep the client and the public safe than ever before.

The preferred way to do internet counseling is via a program that lets both people see each other and talk in real-time. Emailing questions or comments is more like advice-giving. I try to answer readers’ questions on this blog in general ways but this is not therapy and is no substitute for actually sitting down and doing therapy.

Professionals who communicate with clients via emails and texts primarily use this to set appointments and confirm or change times not for doing therapy.

So is remote or internet counseling safe and is it good for the client, the professional, and the public?

Let’s look at some of the pros and cons.

Pros of distance counseling.

Internet counseling can bring help to those who live in remote areas, can’t get out of the house for physical or mental health reasons, and who just find it more convenient to seek therapy from home.

Studies suggest that distance counseling can be as effective as in-person therapy and it can be available at all sorts of times and places when a counselor might otherwise not be available.

Cons of distance counseling.

Much of what is communicated is non-verbal. From a distance, a counselor can miss those other body language messages. Some of what we do is point out the discrepancies between what the client is saying and what their body language tells us. Can’t do that if you can’t see them. Also, the tone of voice can be distorted or unrealistic over the distance.

In-person counselors work in the area you live in. That means that if they do something wrong you know who to complain to. Here in California, we are licensed by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. That means we should be working with clients from California and only those from California unless we have a license from another state.

Where exactly does that person who is doing your internet counseling located? Do they have a license in your state, in another state, or anywhere for that matter?

What if you are feeling suicidal or if the client we are talking to is thinking about killing someone? If you are in an office we can make some calls and get you into a hospital or get you to a place that keeps you or the person that this client intends to kill safe?

What happens to the suicidal client if your therapist is on the internet from another country? What if they have little or no training and just decided online therapy was a way to make a lot of money?

Some state codes and some ethical guidelines require the professional who does over the internet counseling to meet with you at least once in a face to face session to make sure that they really know who you are and you can see and sign all the required forms.

If this internet counseling is arranged by a third-party, doctor, nurse, or rural government agency, that first visit may need to be conducted at one of their offices.

Information sent over the internet can be a lot less secure than the confidential setting in a therapist’s office. Make sure you understand the steps that the professional is taking to make sure your sessions stay confidential.

Right now there is a problem with those calling themselves “coaches.”  In most places, there are no licenses required to become a coach. Some “life coaches” have taken a couple of hour class on the internet on how to make money being a coach. Others may have taken much longer trainings in how to be a good coach.

What very few coaches have done is taken the training needed to work with people who have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder.

Here are some rules for picking a professional if you decide to work with them over the internet.

1. Make sure the person you are working with is a mental health professional who is licensed in your state.

2. Try to find someone who lives in the same part of the state you live in so that if you need to go see them at some point you can.

3. Plan to visit the counselor’s office at least once to get to know this person and to be sure this is the one you want to work with.

4. Discuss privacy concerns, confidentiality, prices, and so on.

This field is new and like any new technology, the specifics seem to be constantly changing. I expect there will be plenty of changes to this practice as well. Hope that sheds some light on the use of the internet to conduct remote or distance therapy.

Have any of you used the internet in this way? How did this work out for you? I would especially be interested in hearing from any professionals that are doing distance counseling.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel