Tele-Health in Action
by Alejandra Rodriguez Wheelock, Acara Fellow 2020
Art by Gabriela Rodriguez Wheelock
Unemployment and grief in minority communities and among people of color is a subject of both personal and professional interest to me. As an international student from Guatemala, I can relate to the reality of being in an unfamiliar place and interacting with a culture that contrasts my own while looking for employment opportunities to support my family and myself. The Acara Challenge was an opportunity to not only work closely with a mentor but to address an important social problem in the Twin Cities. The record unemployment rates that came with COVID-19 showcased the need for culturally sensitive counseling services during the pandemic crisis as people from all cultures and backgrounds were feeling uncertain about how they would care for themselves and their families. Thus, the work with Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning to provide students with access to this eight session workshop was more important than ever, and the Grief and Job Loss CCAPS Fellowship was ignited into action.
Assistance for the unemployed up until now has consisted primarily of programs designed for job searching with the main intent to have the individual secure and maintain employment. However, theseprograms fail to address possible underlying mental health concerns that can develop because of the chronic stress that comes with being unemployed and having a part of one’s identity stripped away. This project used the tele-health group psychotherapy model with the framework of grief and loss to assist participants in developing coping strategies to address the psychological, physiological, and social impact of unemployment. The group setting provided a safe and supportive environment for members to process loss while learning skills to help cope with the symptoms effectively. The conversations were hard to face; they came from a place of fear and vulnerability. However, at the end of the cycle, participants expressed feeling more confidence in reaching out for support and having a more holistic view of themselves and their strengths as they looked for other employment options. At the moment, my mentor Professor Fiyyaz Karim from the Master’s in Integrated Behavioral Health and I are implementing changes to the workshop. We are incorporating the suggestions given by students and reflecting on the challenges caused by the instability of the pandemic. Our goal is to ensure that information is being provided efficiently via the tele-health modality.
This project is the first of many in which I aim to improve the mental health of minorities in the Twin Cities area. I learned how to bring an idea to life using the resources available to me through the Acara Challenge. Additionally, I also learned the importance of thinking local and acting small to ensure the project can adapt itself to unprecedented circumstances and the direct needs of the community. We hope to run this project again in Spring 2021. After my masters, I will be on track to obtain both my Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC) and my Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) credentials. This project kindled my passion to help create culturally sound services for all members of the Twin Cities, and it showed me the direction my counseling career will take.