As our school counseling world has turned upside down in the last month, many counselors are wondering about handling online student crisis during the pandemic. After all, we’ve all seen our student crisis outcries increase in the last few years, so it stands to reason that students will continue to have them- especially in this scary and stressful reality we are all living! So, you might be thinking, what do I do if a student makes a virtual outcry about harm to self or others?? Well, let’s talk about that.
If you’ve read my previous post on handling student crisis in school , then you know that a student crisis is defined as one of the “3 Hurts” and you probably have a protocol in place for handling crisis. Well, you are way ahead of the virtual crisis curve if you have these supports already in place because you will be following much of your same crisis protocol, with just a few tweaks to modify it for the virtual world (Lerner, 2019). After all, now is NOT the time to start anything new with everything that we all have on our plates!
In keeping with the idea of not starting fresh or re-inventing the wheel during this overwhelming time, here is a link to all my latest resources, updated for distance learning and tele-counseling.
And now onto 5 key tips for handling online student crisis during the pandemic…
Online Crisis Tip #1
Developing an online crisis protocol with your principal or admininstration should be one of the first things that you do in this new normal that we are all living now. It is crucial that everyone involved knows knows the steps that will be followed in “3 Hurts” crisis situations. Here are some key points to include in your protocol:
- As in face-to-face crisis situations, immediately notifying the parent/guardian and offering counseling referrals is key.
- Stay online with the student in crisis until you make contact with the parent. One effective way to do this is to have the student walk their computer (and you) over to their parent/guardian in another room of the house- that way you can continue your crisis intervention conversation with both the student and the parent at the same time.
- If you can’t get ahold of the parent/guardian or at least an emergency contact, then it is time to call in the local authorities to do a welfare check on the student (probably after a quick consult with admin).
- Keep in mind that in the virtual world, following all these steps simultaneously often involves 2 or more adults. For that reason, many online counselors work on crisis in pairs (and it is fine to have an admin or nurse as your crisis partner if you are the lone counselor at your school).
- Schedule a followup with any student that has a crisis. This might be in the form of a phone call or an individual meeting using your district’s online platform. Either is fine as long as you check on the student. For ideas on what to do/discuss in the followup meeting, check out my crisis intervention steps here.
(Steele & Nuckols, 2018)
Online Crisis Tip #2
Make sure you communicate the crisis protocol, counseling referrals, and limits of confidentiality (i.e.- “3 Hurts” are always reported to another adult) with staff, parents, and students by having all posted on your online platform and your website. Staff should know to alert you or a member of the campus crisis team immediately if they know of a student in crisis. Also review with staff how to make a CPS report; here’s a USA Today article on how staff reports are more important than ever now as students are spending unprecedented time in the home.
Here are some helpful referrals sites to post:
- SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-8255 or Chat with Lifeline
- Crisis Textline: Text TALK to 741741
(Stone, C. et al, 2020)
Online Crisis Tip #3
Make sure that students know how to see you for both crises and non-crisis situations. Discuss this with them in your first virtual guidance lesson (here’s a link to a lesson you can use) and post a short blurb about this on your website and on your online platform. Here is a Virtual Request to See the Counselor Resource.
Online Crisis Tip #4
According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), it is important to establish clear boundaries around your virtual counseling role and availability (2017). Make it very clear what your counseling hours are and are not! Boundaries are even more important to the newly online counselor so that students/families know exactly when you are availble to help them and what to do when you are not. Post your hours front and center on the homepage of both your online platform and your website; in the same place, also post those 24/7 resources mentioned above for the times when you aren’t available. In addition, shut down your online platform outside of your work hours.
Online Crisis Tip #5
Start thinking about some crisis prevention ideas. The sooner you can start implementing them, the better…but you know…pandemic. So, this may be a task for next month or even next year and that’s perfectly fine! Here are a few of my favorite crisis prevention resources:
- Stars of Social-Emotional Learning– Well, I created this video game long before the Coronavirus hit, but it is an elearning lifesaver if you need something to give your homebound kiddos in order to build their SEL skills and resiliency habits during this stressful time.
- Sending Students Soaring – This is a trauma-informed group guide that was created before the homebound learning tsunami hit. But all of the sessions and activities can be easily modifided for the virtual group setting. And all kiddos can benefit from these trauma-informed sessions since living through a pandemic is, well, traumatic.
- Cope Into Hope (link in book pic below)- This is a grief guide that was written long before COVID-19, but experiencing this pandemic is causing most of us to go through the grief process, so your hardest hit kiddos will really benefit from this individual cousneling guide. All of it can be easily modifided for tele-counseling and online learning.
What Really Matters
In closing, keep in mind that we really only have two big tasks in this early pandemic stage of transitioning to online school counseling. While I’m sure you can think of tons of counselor tasks that need to get done and maybe your admin is even pushing you to do all these tasks, only two things really matter right now:
- First, acting as a soothing, safe person for the kiddos on our caseloads (maybe reaching out through Minute Meetings or email/phone call check-ins, etc.).
- Second, having a plan in place for handling a student crisis.
That’s it. Everything else is details and will probably become irrelevant with time when the world decides collectively to take a massive RE-DO of Spring 2020. I hope this perspective helps you to take a deep breath and re-orient if you are feeling overwhelmed. I know I am and I have to remind myself of this Every. Single. Day.
That brings me to the end of this April post. Please leave a comment because I’d love to hear about how you are doing with switching to online school counseling! Such a crushing and exhilarating adventure we are all experiencing right now! Catch up with me again in May for my monthly counseling post that I share during the first weekend of every month. Next month’s post will be on how to support our students of trauma in a distance learning environment.
American School Counselor Association. (2017). The school counselor and virtual school counseling. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PS_Virtual.pdf
Lerner, S. (2019). Crisis prevention & intervention in school counseling. Retrieved from http://schoolcounselorstephanie.com/2019/05/04/crisis-prevention-intervention-in-school-counseling/
Steele, T & Nuckols, G. (2017). It’s a virtual world. ASCA School Counselor. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/PositionStatements/PS_Virtual.pdf
Stone, C, Rock, W, & Steele, T. (2020) Ethical considerations: School counseling in a virtual setting (part 1). ASCA On Air. Retrieved from https://videos.schoolcounselor.org/ethics-virtual-school-counseling
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Disaster distress helpline. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (2020). Emotional wellbeing during the COVID-19 outbreak. Retrieved from https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/current-events/supporting-your-emotional-well-being-during-the-covid-19-outbreak/