The Reach Out Zoom session organised by CHOICES Career & Education Advice (Wednesday April 29) ended with those present overwhelmingly pledging their support for the formation of a network of Caribbean counsellors and committing to a follow-up session. The online forum on the theme “Joining Hearts & Minds in Coping With Covid-19” attracted the participation of close to 300 counsellors, ministry of education officers and social agency representatives from 13 islands across the English-Speaking Caribbean. It was presented in association with The Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors in Education (JAGCE) and the Barbados Association of Guidance Counsellors (BAGC) with the aim of helping attendees to understand approaches being used in sister islands and also for them to share new best practices which are working in this unprecedented Covid-19 situation.
Co-hosts of the event were Jamaicans, Mrs. Angela deFreitas of CHOICES and Mr. Richard Skyers of JAGCE and Barbadian, Mrs. Margaret Grant of BAGC.
Special guest presenter on the subject was Dr. Karelle Hylton, counselling psychologist and school counsellor. Dr. Hylton covered the subject in detail looking at many aspects relating to counsellors and their responsibility to individual students, their school family and community and also to their own personal family and well-being as they take on the heavy burden of providing psychological and emotional support across various communities at this time during Covid-19 and afterwards, all in a new environment of having to use internet technologies.
She said, “I realise that we are all giving dedicated service in this whirlwind that we have all found ourselves of using technology to get our guidance and counselling skills across”. Her presentation looked at areas relating to personal finance, health and fitness, good nutrition, professional development and refreshing and rebuilding their own personal counselling skills in the vital areas which will be required such as grief therapy when persons have lost a family member, lost their source of income, lost a relationship and many more scenarios.
She stressed the importance of finding the positive in Covid-19. “We can spend more time with family; we can connect and reconnect with family; we are alive and still active and healthy. We have to help people to see the hope and that there is life after Covid”, she shared with attendees.
In advising counsellors on how to prepare themselves for their task, she urged counsellors to come out the Covid-19 “fear zone” and get quickly into the “learning” and “growth” zones if they are to help and serve others. “Lift yourself with self-affirmations, remain calm, patient and giving of self but without hurting yourself”. She used the example of a tea bag being prepared for hot water in a teacup. Counsellors know that they must jump into hot water so they must prepare for it was her point. “Clients will be coming to us with ‘grey’; we will have to be the change agents to add back the colour they need”.
She looked at burn-out and warned her colleagues to recognize this in themselves while also guarding against empathy with clients becoming sympathy for them in their many and varied situations. She also advised them to know when they themselves need help and how and when to say “no” in order to create a balance between giving selflessly to others and caring for their own mental and emotional selves.
In her opening remarks, Mrs. deFreitas acknowledged that this was an unprecedented gathering of so many persons of like mind in pursuit of common goals. She identified the need for the digital divide between Caribbean countries and within groups and communities within Caribbean countries to be bridged if students are to benefit from online education and if counsellors are to be able to reach out to their clients to provide the services required through internet technology. She also posed the idea of the next step being the formation of a Caribbean association for guidance counsellors.
In sharing individual island reports a representative from each island was asked describe initiatives implemented by their ministries of education and counsellors to lend assistance during Covid-19. They revealed initiatives such as implementing active Whatsap groups, using radio and television broadcasts, Facebook and Instagram pages, You Tube channels, hot-lines for real-time call-ins, training seminars on psychological first-aid and pandemic disruption, Zoom meetings, online guidance classes, provision of care packages, tele-counselling, forming support groups for students and others, putting out information in public service announcements, providing information in foreign languages for non-english-speaking family members in the home, using virtual education sites such as Edmodo, Google Suite for Education, Zoom, Teams, use of sharing platforms and other internet technologies, providing hot lunches for students and other such activities.