Welcome to fall semester 2020- it’s going to be unique! Every new academic year is a time of adjustments, transitions, challenges, and new experiences. This year however we face an unprecedented set of challenges. The year of 2020 ushered in a pandemic which swept the country, leaving very few lives unaffected. With restrictions on group gatherings, and concern about the spread of the virus, universities and colleges have become a focal point for concern. Along with other collegiate institutions, USM has quickly adapted normal procedures to increase safety for students, faculty and staff. But with all the changes, adjustments and ongoing concerns comes an understandable increase in feelings of stress, discomfort, and grief. Additional emotional states you may experience might include: fear, confusion, sadness, and anger, maybe even symptoms of anxiety or depression. USM Health and Counseling Center wants to let you know that Counseling Services are here to help you cope, particularly during this time of COVID concerns.

Services may look a bit different this year, so we’d like to offer some clarity regarding what you can expect, and how to connect with us. Similar to many other areas on campus, University Health and Counseling has made changes to adhere to social distancing, and promote the health of our community. Health and Counseling Center doors will be locked, and signs will be posted on doors directing students to call 780-5411 (Gorham) or 780-4050 (Portland) for counseling appointments.

Sessions will be conducted using a HIPAA Zoom platform. Initial consults will typically occur over the phone with a counselor. Part of this new tele-therapy process includes signing an informed consent in your patient portal. Administrative specialists can direct you to this consent form when you call to schedule an appointment. Administrative staff can also provide you a link for initial screening forms. You will need to provide your counselor with the phone number for an emergency contact person, someone who can reach you within ½ hour if needed. Tele-therapy can only be provided in the state where your counselor is licensed. Beyond Maine, we currently have some limited availability to provide zoom therapy for students who are located in some New England states, please inquire by contacting Counseling Services. USM Counselors can also assist out of state students with referrals to local providers.  If you do not have a private space from which to zoom, we can provide you with one.

In addition to individual treatment, counseling staff will also be offering a variety of support workshops via zoom. Some of these workshops include: Improving your Mental Well-Being during COVID, Women’s Support Group, Stress Management Workshop, Chill Skills Workshop, Grief and Loss Group, Mastering Mindfulness, Nursing Chat, and A New Trail. We are still here for you if you are experiencing a crisis. Typically crisis appointments will also be conducted via phone or zoom, and local community crisis services may be utilized.

Pros and Cons of zoom – While tele-therapy is not the same as in-person counseling, it is an excellent option during this unique time. Tele-therapy eliminates any risk of spreading the virus, and promotes safety for our whole USM community. Some of the additional benefits of tele-therapy over zoom can include convenience- no need to walk outside during the inclement weather, or drive to campus and find parking, easier to fit appointments into your daily schedule. Comfort and privacy- you can enter a zoom session from your home location, or your room where you feel comfortable, and private. Some students have already reported that they prefer psychotherapy through zoom and have noticed benefit in their ability to be more vulnerable and open. Some of the downsides to tele-therapy can include technical issues. Slow or unreliable internet connections and other technology issues may cause disruptions or difficulties in sessions, such as frozen screens, lag time, speaker or microphone malfunctions. Use of technology can also create some confidentiality risks, for example accounts and systems can be hacked.  Zoom Fatigue- you may notice, as you spend more time in front of a screen for work, school, socialization, and therapy, that you experience feelings of fatigue. Some individuals experience headaches, eye strain, muscle tension, and or sensation of mental or physical weariness. It is important to account for the benefits and negatives of using zoom, and we encourage flexibility, compassion, and self-care!

While things may be a bit different with counseling services, we remain here for you! It’s going to be a unique year, but we hope that it will be positive and memorable.


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