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Shelley Levit

Counselling during a Pandemic: Welcome to my virtual office. Please, take a seat.

Shelley Levit , Supervisor of Counselling Services, JCFS, May 22,2020

Here I sit, in my newly configured makeshift home office, with an iPad propped up on a table easel next to my computer, a coffee in hand and in the company of my dog and 2 cats. Not having to rummage through my closet to figure out what to wear, as I can get away with comfortable lounge pants and a professional looking shirt is one of the perks of working from home.


In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Jewish Child and Family Service (JCFS), a multi-service agency that is the primary provider of social services to the Winnipeg Jewish community, has transitioned to responding to clients’ needs through video conferencing and telephone. These proactive measures were necessary to ensure client and staff safety during this challenging time. We continue to offer an array of counselling services, education and support programs, albeit virtually. The first reaction I had to the notion of working from home was that of scepticism and uncertainty. The adjustment wasn’t easy but the changeover has proven to be quite effective. I am now able to comfortably provide counselling to clients, engage in meetings with JCFS staff and conduct supervisory meetings all virtually with few glitches or disruptions in service.


It goes without saying that we are currently facing an unprecedented challenge that is different in scope and magnitude than many others that have come before. Its consequences are vast and far-reaching, impacting all aspects of our lives – physical health, mental health, financial stability, and relationships. JCFS’s Counselling program helps clients address their difficulties and equips them to cope in a more adaptive way. 


As a therapist and counselling supervisor I have witnessed firsthand the struggles that clients are experiencing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Existing problems are magnified and new ones are evident.  Many counselling clients who are single are feeling a sharp sense of isolation and loneliness; couples are being negatively impacted by financial stressors and from isolation together; parents are overwhelmed having to home school their children and simultaneously work from home; those trying to coordinate child visitations with an uncooperative ex-partner are being more challenged; college students who are uncertain, anxious and  worried about their futures and the increasing number of individuals who are experiencing anxiety, worry, depression, grief, etc.   


In order to accommodate the increase financial strain as a result of Covid-19, JCFS’s Counselling Program is offering 3 free counselling sessions to all new clients. Existing clients are able to apply for further subsidy on their already subsidized fee.  Our Counselling Program is the sole agency service that operates on a fee for service, sliding scale basis and is open to all Manitobans both within the Jewish and broader communities, although the majority come from Winnipeg and the surrounding areas.


In addition to meeting with Individuals, couples, and families, JCFS’s Counselling Program typically offers various workshops as well as support/therapy groups that address a wide range of psychosocial issues.  Our eight week Bereavement Support Group is an agency mainstay that has been sorely missed over the past two months.  The loss of a loved one is excruciatingly difficult at the best of times. It is markedly intensified during these challenging times.  Families, who have lost a loved one, are unable to engage in the various mourning rituals that typically provide comfort and support. Funerals, sitting Shiva, visits and physical comfort from family and friends are key elements in our healing journey. Physical distancing and the inability to gather in large groups interfere with this.


We at JCFS want to respond on how to best meet the needs of grieving individuals and families. We would ideally be able to work with Winnipeg synagogues in this endeavour. We are also meeting with other Jewish organizations to plan and coordinate programming groups, workshops, and webinars to meet the many needs in our community.


There is much uncertainty and anxiety about the future. We do not know what will be temporary or permanent adjustments and what the new normal may look like. Reopening businesses and organizations will not be easy and straightforward.


A recent article Winnipeg Free Press article speaks to the subject of the workplace post-pandemic and suggests that “office culture will have fundamentally changed” in various ways. Employees may be allowed to work remotely more often; fewer in-person meetings will take place; employees work schedules may be staggered, and so on.   


It is much too early to know despite all the speculation about the future. In the meantime, it may be prudent to hunker down and think about how to better reconfigure my home office.

Shelley Levit
Supervisor of Counselling Services
Jewish Child and Family Service

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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