Joel Diambra, EdD, NCC, LPC-MHSP, is an associate professor in the educational psychology and counseling department at Tennessee University in Knoxville. Diambra has faced the changes COVID-19 has brought in several professional capacities: as a counselor educator learning to teach online, both in a topic course and internship course; supervising interns online; and in private practice supervising license-pursuing counselors. He gives tips on online teaching and supervision and shares his emotional journey, comparing it to that of an unknown roller coaster.
One of my former supervisors taught me her PITS model (personal, interpersonal, theme/topic, and summary) for conducting meetings. It works just as well in the online class format as well as a variety of other contexts. It invites time for each person to check in; check on each other “together”; cover the content for the class; and review, wrap up, and plan for next steps. Especially now, students need a moment to check in, share their personal journeys, reconnect to one another, get back to work to finish the semester well, and make plans for the future. This model provides guidance to ensure these tasks get done in each class.
Using interactive class activities still works. Inspired by one of my supervisee’s coworker’s ideas, I prompted interns to complete a scavenger hunt. I showed one prompt at a time on the screen (e.g., find something in your space that: makes you feel safe, or demonstrates a skill you have, or smells good, or gives you comfort, or brings back a happy memory, etc.). We all abandoned our screens, ran around our dwellings, and brought an item back to our workspace. After we collected our prized scavenger hunt items, we went through each prompt and shared. This created a memorable activity for all of us and inspired us to share at a more intimate level, and we were able to generate similar ideas to use with clients via telehealth counseling.
As a summation activity, in random order I listed the chapters of the book we just completed for my supervision course. I sent this document by email and shared it using Zoom. Students tried to order the chapters as they were presented in the text and identify a memorable lesson, concept, or idea from each chapter. As a group, we identified the correct order, one chapter at time, and discussed our key lessons. This provided a simple, yet effective overview of the material covered in class.
With online supervision, take the time to ensure supervisees (and you) set up the video so their face is well lit. Watching affect and facial responses is a significant part of our work, and some of us would prefer to hide at times, especially when we’re not handling all this COVID-19 so well.
This COVID-19 emotional journey feels much like being on a brand new, unknown roller coaster alone in the pitch dark of night (no vision), loosely strapped in with no way to get off. Sometimes I feel somewhat comforted when I hear the click, click, click of the tracks locking me as I slowly and steadily climb upward. My anxiety and anticipation is high; however, because I recognize this temporary comfort will and must end, I know I will plummet downward, out of control, twisting and turning, upside down, back and forth, and I will have little control during this emotional rollercoaster ride.
At times I want off; I want the ride to end, but I don’t have the ability to stop the ride. Over time, the ride is becoming familiar. I am recognizing the repeated pattern and I’m better able to anticipate the inevitable twists and turns ahead. As the ride becomes more familiar, my heightened anxiety gradually decreases. I find hope because I believe the ride will eventually slow down and end, but I accept that the world around me will be forever changed. So far the journey has helped me to further appreciate family, friends, nodal life events (past and future), the outdoors, my five senses, walking, kayaking, fishing, solitude, and toilet paper—plus many of life’s other pleasures that I have taken for granted.