Jewish Family Service Social Workers Are Now Certified Virtual Providers

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This article was originally published in The Jewish Observer.
February 1, 2021
by Barbara Dab
The world of mental health is undergoing a major shift in the way social workers and other licensed counselors deliver services during the pandemic. While traditional in person therapy and counseling may still be preferred, in today’s COVID19 world, it is often not the safest method. To address the need to reach more people, Jewish Family Service social workers recently received training and certification to provide tele-mental health treatment. Ashley Franklin, a LMSW social worker at JFS, says it was the increase in calls for assistance that triggered her desire for additional training. “Over the past several months we’ve become busier and received more requests for counseling,” she says. So together with Toni Jacobsen, LCSW and Clinical Director of JFS, the two researched best practices and decided to embark on the new certification process. Toni Jacobsen says it was the most responsible way to make sure they could deliver quality service, “We had a lot to learn about things like creating and developing the right professional platform for interacting with patients, billing and most important, building relationships with people,” she says.

Since becoming certified, both Toni Jacobsen and Ashley Franklin say they are happy they have been able to serve more people. According to Ashley, this past year has seen an increase in things like anxiety and depression. She says, “People are dealing with a lot. There’s everything from social isolation to financial struggles. The biggest issue seems to be fear of the unknown.” Additionally, with families forced to stay home and children remaining out of school, there are some enhanced risks in other areas. Toni says, “In families dealing with domestic violence issues, the situations can become more dangerous.” She also says the normal post-holiday season drop in calls never materialized and both she and Ashley are continuing to see sustained need for counseling services.

The new tele-mental health model has made it easier for people to access counseling services, but it is not without its challenges. Ashley Franklin says, “Since I am now seeing people virtually while they are at home and I am at home, we have to establish some different boundaries.” And Toni Jacobsen agrees, “So much of what we do is build relationships and since we are on the computer, I can only see what the patient wants me to see of their surroundings.” When it comes to working with children, both say they are working with children virtually where possible and seeing them in the office if virtual sessions are not the most effective option. Despite the new challenges and the added technical and administrative work, both social workers are pleased they can reach people where they are, which is mostly at home. They look forward to the time they can return to seeing people in person, but Toni says there may still be lingering fears about being in close quarters, so virtual sessions could be around for a while.

Virtual mental health treatment also comes with increased costs. Jewish Family Service was able to provide for the social workers’ trainings and other needs thanks to a grant from the Philip and Eva Kopald Berkell Professional Education Fund for Jewish Family Service housed at the Jewish Foundation of Nashville. The Berkell’s were the grandparents of Jan Liff, who created the fund in 2006 to ensure JFS has funding for continuing education for the staff. Pam Kelner, Executive Director of JFS says, “I am so proud and impressed that this fund helped us find new and innovative ways to help people. We always strive to use best practices, even under extraordinary circumstances.” She encourages people to think about their priorities and their legacies and consider helping local agencies in their missions to meet the needs of the community. The mental health services of JFS are available to anyone in the greater Nashville community and various forms of payment are accepted, including insurance and sliding scale.

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