A Closer Look

School Psychologists Should Embrace Telecounseling as an Option in the Post-COVID-19 World

Some school psychologists, especially in rural communities, have provided telehealth services for some time, but it is safe to say that most school psychologists first considered and implemented telecounseling out of necessity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe this also provides an opportunity for expanding our counseling abilities in the future, when we all hope to be serving students who are attending school, in person, 5 days a week.

Why will telecounseling be possible even after students return?

As schools across America scrambled to implement distance learning, they increased the technology (i.e., laptops and tablets) and, perhaps with community partnerships, increased wi-fi access for many students, particularly benefiting those groups previously left out of such access. We anticipate students will continue to have such devices once they return to classrooms.

School psychologists, with the help of NASP and other professional organizations and colleagues, learned how to provide telecounseling. In our long experiences as school psychologists (since we are old and have been in the field for a long time), this might be the most significant change in practice that we have witnessed in our field. Necessity is truly the mother of invention. At a time when our students—generally isolated, sometimes grieving, and often facing the most uncertainty in their lives—needed us the most, we as a profession rose to the occasion, and telecounseling was one way we addressed their needs.

What barriers to telecounseling might be evident after the pandemic ends?

If we learned anything from more than a year in a pandemic, it is that change is inevitable. Some things will likely continue to change even after the pandemic ends. For instance, schools must comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which protects the privacy and confidentiality of student records but does not specifically address confidentiality of spoken conversations by electronic means. For that, we turn to guidance in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Many of the typical restrictions of HIPAA are waived or relaxed while we are in a state of emergency, such as allowing use of any technology platform as long as it is not public facing or obtaining consent for services verbally when written consent would be difficult and prohibit the child from receiving necessary services. After the pandemic, one might assume there will be more stringent requirements to use a HIPAA-compliant platform, such as Doxy.me, VSee, or Zoom for Healthcare, and these will likely have some additional costs. We may also go back to only initiating services upon receiving written consent.

Also, many states reduced the length of school days for 2020–2021. Accordingly, many counseling services are provided outside the shortened school day so as not to interrupt the limited instruction time. It may be difficult to provide telecounseling outside of a longer instructional day when we go back to a full schedule.

Why should we continue telecounseling after the pandemic?

There might be advantages for both students and school psychologists to continue using telecounseling in a postpandemic world. School psychologists might find it allows greater flexibility in scheduling appointments or it allows more time to work directly with students by eliminating commuting between locations. School districts may find this increasingly appealing in areas where staffing shortages are significant.

Students may also prefer telecounseling, thus allowing improved session attendance. We have known some children who have thrived in the realm of distance learning and have participated more meaningfully in telecounseling than they had in person. They (or their parents) might not want to give this up.

We hypothesize, and certainly hope, that we will emerge from this pandemic to a state of normalcy, but that does not require we return solely to how we practiced school psychology before the terms social distancing or distance learning became a regular part of our vocabulary. We assert that telecounseling will not, and should not, replace in-person counseling, but it should be an option for students who may benefit from continuing in this modality. School psychologists should begin conversations now about how they want to provide counseling in the future and what they might do now to be prepared for telecounseling after the pandemic.

About the Author

Robyn Moses, LEP, LPCC & Thomas J. Sopp, MA, LMFT
Robyn Moses, LEP, LPCC, is the Director of Mental Health for HBUHSD where she developed and oversees the mental health clinic for 5 school districts. In addition to supporting school psychologists providing educationally related mental health services, she provides individual and parent counseling, assesses student’s mental health needs, and provides professional development on topics such as trauma informed practices, telehealth, and psychological first aide. She is also a lecturer in School Psychology and Counseling at CSU, Long Beach and Chapman University. In her spare time, Robyn is a volunteer Instructor and Disaster Mental Health Manager with the American Red Cross.

Thomas J. Sopp, MA., LMFT, is a school psychologist with the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) assigned to the Family Resource Center (FRC). Tom supports 6 school sites by assessing the site’s tiered supports, consulting with staff on adding prevention/intervention services, providing individual and group counseling services to students, modeling classroom social/emotional lessons for teachers, providing parent training, and leading professional development for school staff. In addition, he is cochair of the Mental Wellness committee for the California Association of School Psychologists (CASP). Lastly, he is a CASP past president.