May Dugan Center shifts to teletherapy to continue its Trauma Recovery Service program during the COVID-19 pandemic
by Chuck Hoven
The May Dugan Center which offers programs and services for over 6,000 clients a year is shifting to offering some of its services remotely and calling clients at home to make sure they are ok. May Dugan Director of Programming and Evaluation Sue Marasco explains how one of its programs, counseling for those who have experienced trauma, has made a special effort to make sure it can still provide services to clients via teletherapy.
As part of the counseling services it offers, May Dugan offers a Trauma Recovery Service to victims of crime, or people who have witnessed a violent crime. Marasco says all crime victims and witnesses are welcome to the program “as long as we can provide service to them in a meaningful way.”
Marasco explained how the Trauma Recovery Service has moved to doing teletherapy because of the restrictions on face-to-face meetings brought on by the advent of the corona virus COVID-19. She said that teletherapy is ideally done over a video screen. Marasco said that to assure everyone in the program would be able to participate with video and audio, May Dugan bought smart phones for participants in the program. Even though May Dugan had no funding for the purchase of the phones, Marasco said, the purchase was made because “we knew it was the right thing to do.” She acknowledged we “went fishing without a net,” but said May Dugan would graciously ask its supporters for donations to pay for the phones.
Marasco acknowledged that doing teletherapy can be difficult when people are trying to talk from their homes. The therapist must keep in mind that it might be tricky for a client to find a private place and the conversation may not be completely confidential. For example, a mother having kids nearby in the house may compromise her ability to speak frankly. It may be easier to find a private space to do teletherapy once the weather is better and people can go outside, said Marasco, while acknowledging that may not work for everybody.
Even with the smart phones, there is a little bit of a struggle for some clients that don’t have internet connectivity to find hotspots where they can communicate with counselors, said Marasco.
The phones also allow clients to go online and make calls to search for resources during this pandemic, she said.
With the advent of the restrictions, job losses, and stay at home orders brought on by the corona virus COVID-19, Marasco said people were “experiencing all the resources they depend on being jerked out from them.” Meal programs, libraries, social services, and other programs they have depended upon have shut down.
In response to this breakdown of the neighborhood support system, Marasco said, “We have pivoted very quickly to making sure everyone has food.” Rooms that were once filled with people participating in programs are now filled with pallets of food, she said.
Marasco said anxiety is high during this period of dramatic change. For people with anxiety disorders, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, such anxiety can be a real trigger. May Dugan therapists offer them reassurances. “We are here. We are not going anywhere. We will figure this out together over time,” she said.
Marasco says May Dugan Center offers counseling with a service philosophy that is based on trauma informed care. She said that it is important to recognize that it “takes a great deal of bravery to ask for help.” Food insecurity and other traumatic experiences can lead to habits that are not the best for individuals. For example, some people may say things that are not true, or are exaggerated, when seeking help. Marasco said it is important not to focus on what is true, but on the person asking. “Why are you asking with such urgency?” Marasco said it is important to honor that “this is how they ask for help.”
Asked about victims of domestic violence who may be sheltering at home with an abuser, Marasco said it is “heartbreaking.” She said those individuals “rely on the ability to leave the house to coordinate getting help.” Marasco said the strategy is to get the person to the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center shelter and to support that program and its services as much as possible.
To measure if trauma therapy is helping a person to improve their well-being, Marasco says May Dugan has use of some “really good tools.” She said questionnaires for clients help to determine if they are eating, sleeping well, if they are experiencing headaches, shortness of breath, or are waking up in the night. Also, with the video, the therapist that sees something can ask a direct question.
A network of therapists that work under the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services offers resources for May Dugan therapists and a chance to dialogue with others in the profession. Marasco credits other organizations with having amazing clinicians available for support and referrals such as the State Hospitals, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).
Marasco urged residents to get on the phone or internet to check on others and find resources. She said people should try to stay active.
If people are in need of something, they can call May Dugan at 216-631-5800. There are special extensions for COVID-19 and Food Distribution, or you can leave a message at the front desk, said Marasco. Information about May Dugan Center is also available on their website at: www.maydugancenter.net.