HASTINGS — Hastings College students are able to use counseling services during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to a virtual program started by the college last week.

Counselors Taylor Kindig and Jon Loetterle are conducting online counseling sessions through a privacy laws-approved video conferencing software called Doxy.

Kindig said that when Hastings College moved classes online for the rest of the semester, she and Loetterle wanted to still be able to provide counseling services to students, especially when COVID-19 is invoking anxiety and changing daily routines.

“Students’ mental health and overall wellness is always a priority to us,” she said. “Students definitely use our in-person counseling sessions and with everything going on right now, I think it is just anxiety-provoking for everybody. Some of our students might be struggling and we did not want to cut off that service, especially during such a difficult time.”

Loetterle said Hastings College Counseling Services has a booking app called “You Can Book Me,” where a student can schedule a counseling session with either him or Kindig. The app sends the student a confirmation email that includes an embedded link to the Doxy site.

From there, students are sent to a virtual waiting room and, at or near their assigned counseling time, Kindig or Loetterle can click on the student to begin their virtual counseling session.

Loetterle said the length of the counseling session is up to each student. They can have 10- to 15-minute check-in sessions or longer 45-minute sessions during which the counselor goes through the intake process for students who are using these sessions for the first time. Each counseling session is booked for an hour.

To get the word out about the virtual counseling services to students, Kindig said she and Loetterle sent them an initial email about it. They also talked with professors and faculty about ways they can help their students and encouraged them to refer students to the services if needed.

Kindig said she and Loetterle are also sending out weekly mental health and wellness tips to students to help them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mental health is important for everyone, she said, regardless of what they are going through, as it can directly impact their success in things such as their schoolwork and/or their relationships.

“We always put a priority on encouraging our students to seek help when needed and teach that help-seeking behavior,” Kindig said. “We are not all experts at everything and there are going to be times in life where we need help. We want to teach that it is OK to go find that help that they need, regardless of what it is for.”

Loetterle said that while it may be odd for students to do counseling via video chat, those he has worked with have appreciated the virtual counseling service.

“I think the students, once they have tried it, have found that it is very convenient and not a huge difference other than not physically meeting in our counseling office,” he said. “I have had good feedback on it and repeated student use.”

Loetterle said that after the first or second session, students are used to the way the virtual counseling sessions work and are comfortable with them.

“I don’t think that it is anybody’s ideal way to do that kind of thing, but students are appreciative that we are offering this service and making it a priority, because a lot of our regulars are still using it,” Kindig said. “It is nice to not have to just cut off that relationship and not continue working on the things that we were working on.”

Loetterle said the virtual counseling sessions will be offered through the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains to be seen whether Hastings College will continue to offer the online service once the pandemic is over.

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