The Rev. Jan Halstead is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a bi-vocational Deacon serving at Christ Church, Cedar Park.
Following a series of Community Engagement trainings with the Episcopal Health Foundation, Christ Episcopal Church, Cedar Park identified Mental Health as a community outreach priority. Three representatives from Christ Episcopal Church began meeting with staff at agencies who provide mental health services for people in our area spanning both Williamson and Travis Counties. There was a perception from people in the community that there was a lack of easily accessible and affordable mental health services. In speaking with the agencies, we found that the perception was accurate. Over the next two years we met regularly with partners that included schools, clinics and county agencies and through combined efforts, gaps were identified and services were improved. We identified that the largest barrier to mental health services was the distance some people had to travel that prohibited them from attending sessions. We began to imagine solutions such as building a clinic that would serve people from the two counties or partnering with an existing clinic to increase their capacity for mental health services.
When COVID-19 became the reality, new challenges emerged. I am also a Licensed Professional Counselor so I knew the struggle that the agencies were facing. Operating face to face in person was no longer an option for most. All of a sudden, the teletherapy option for seeing people that had previously been a less desirable approach but always a distant possibility, became a quick and successful reality. We found that people in our area do have smartphones, tablets, and other access to technology and via teletherapy, we found a different way to bridge the travel gap making mental health services more and more available. Teletherapy is a very effective option for many people, it is efficient for the mental health professionals and has provided additional office time for people who need the face to face sessions.
What does that mean for our years of work developing our community partnered mental health initiative and the future of our ministry? Having our “known” stripped away gave us the mandate to stop doing what we had seen as the only way to deliver services and to create the “new”. Now we need to give ourselves permission to not return to the pre-pandemic “normal”. Teletherapy works and people have greater access. We have had to just stop, and now we are stepping back so we can begin again.
What will the “new” be? The last three years of work are not lost. Some of our plans are gone, never to be resurrected. I think that this is hard for all of us who work toward a vision. But the relationships we created are still there. I don’t know where we will be in the next two years. But I do know that all involved will respond to the changing needs and build upon the emerging new opportunities. In the end, it is about the healthy relationships that bring health to the community.