FGCU counseling students lending an ear to community to help work through coronavirus emotions

Reporter: Veronica Marshall
Published: Updated:
FGCU counseling student Jilian Sansone (WINK News)

With much of the community working through stress, frustration and a variety of other emotions caused by the coronavirus, there’s a new focus on mental health help.

FGCU’s counseling students are stepping up to the challenge.

“I wanted to make the difference – working one on one with individual clients,” said student Jilian Sansone.

She says she’s always wanted to help people, but now with the coronavirus, meeting people to work through their problems isn’t an option even though the need is there.

That’s why Dr. Russell Sabella, the director of FGCU’s School Counseling program, says his department is trying something new.

“We thought, we’re going to do this. We’re going to do it remotely, we’re going to do it virtually,” he said.

The program sent out letters to all three local school districts telling students, staff and their family members that free, online counseling is on the way.

But the program isn’t limited to just those populations. Sabella says his students will listen to anyone who needs them.

“It’s K-12 students, it’s parents who are stressed out about playing multiple roles right now, it’s the elderly who are maybe in a home that’s not able to receive visitors right now and they’re feeling extra isolated. So anyone who could really just enjoy a listening ear and a focus on survival and coping and doing well – that’s who we’re after,” he said.

The goal: to help the community cope with the coronavirus.

“It’s really kind of a basic exchange and interview on helping people figure out how they’re getting through this, and maybe even just to vent – to share their story and frustrations and kind of get it off of their chest,” Sabella said.

Right now, the program can only accept 250 clients, but Sabella says if there’s enough interest he’ll look into expanding the program in the future.

“Once they sign up, as we get closer to May—our semester starts the second week of May—then our students will contact them and set up appointments. All of this will happen via video, probably Zoom,” Sabella said. “They’re going to be required to audio record their meetings, which they submit to us for supervision just to make sure things are going well. So in some ways, you’re going to have at least two or three people listening and helping and making sure things are going just as they should.”

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