Despite the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) decision to put classes online for the remainder of the semester, Psychological and Counseling Services (PACS) has remained open. Its hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and it will stay open for the remainder of the semester. While it has been a time of transition, this week PACS rolled out two new services to help reach students in need – telehealth counseling and WellTrack.
All 21 PACS employees are still working; most are working remotely from their homes except for six employees who will remain in the office. For the last three weeks, these employees have been working with tele-psychology and telehealth training dealing with the ethics and legality of rolling out this form of counseling in a university setting. Training included security of services, and all paperwork, policies and procedures being modified. Telehealth offers distance counseling through phone calls or face-to-face video conferencing (through Zoom) to currently enrolled UNH students who meet the eligibility criteria for distance counseling services. This service is available to clients assessed as being appropriate for this form of counseling. To protect students’ identities and confidentiality before beginning telehealth counseling, interested students must complete a telehealth screening.
“Everybody may not be appropriate for telehealth services, so we need to screen the client fit for that,” Dr. Shari Robinson, the director of PACS, said. “That’s what is happening this week. Next week, clinicians will have their first individual Telehealth counseling appointments. All of this is really new to us.”
With the closure of UNH, counseling has become more of a challenge due to laws regarding counseling services. Psychologists can only practice in the state they are licensed in; for university psychologists this creates a barrier because many of their clients returned to their home state. Students who remain in New Hampshire can still use PACS through telehealth or in-person counseling. Students who returned to their home state can consult with PACS to help them find a local provider.
“Call our number the (603) 862-2090, if you’re interested in counseling,” Robinson said. “We will schedule you with a telehealth screening to see if you are a good fit, if you are not a good fit that counselor will work with you to refer you to your local community. We will try to help you find a community provider that takes your insurance based on your presenting issues and concerns.”
WellTrack is a third-party vendor that PACS has contracted with and that is available through the PACS website. WellTrack offers individual, self-help modules. It offers interactive activities, videos, and relaxation techniques. The resources are intended to educate the user and they use basic cognitive behavior therapy, which many therapists prefer to use in their own practice.
“About 33 percent of our students were suffering from anxiety and stress,” said Robinson. “We wanted something tangible that you necessarily don’t have to work with a counselor, but you just go on the website anytime of the day, night, or weekend, and as long as you have a UNH email, you can access this online resource. It is also available for faculty and staff, anybody with a UNH email.”
PACS is still available to students and faculty, and the organization has added new resources to help those practicing social distancing and those out of state. To learn more about telehealth counseling and WellTrack, call (603) 862-2090 or go to their website: https://www.unh.edu/pacs/.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” Robinson said. “If we’ve not learned anything about COVID-19, nobody saw this coming, nobody could have predicted this. Living in that present moment, I think is real. Creating what your new normal is going to look like now and feeling like you still have a sense of empowerment and sense of agency to do that. It is really important to be compassionate with yourself, to be gentle and kind. Although, I know we are forced to engage in social distance, this is not a time to disconnect from friends and family.”