University of St. Thomas offers free counseling for teachers, healthcare workers, first responders

The Healing Our Heroes initiative from the University of St. Thomas is expanding free counseling and mental health services to K-12 teachers.

The university started with health care workers and first responders in September. Adding teachers is crucial because they have been under intense pressure with the restraints and threats of the pandemic while teaching, an official said.

“There’s a lot of trauma going on,” said Dr. Grant Sasse, director of St. Thomas’ Counseling Training Clinic who also oversees the program. “COVID is not only something that people like health care workers or first responders have to deal with in a work setting, but it’s also affecting them on a personal level as well. It can kind of compound.”

The pandemic created new stress and fatigue for teachers and a “whole new dynamic of classroom management,” said Sasse, who is also an associate professor of clinical mental health counseling. Many teachers have had to adapt with pandemic protocols by switching to online or remote learning while striving to stay safe when teaching in hybrid and in-person formats.

“Part of the reward (of being a teacher) is the connection and the relationship you can build with your students. I think that’s a little tougher now,” he added.

The clinic, located in St. Thomas’ Veteran Success Center, is staffed by licensed professionals and students or counselors-in-training and offers individual telehealth appointments .

Sasse said the university has considered the clinic a large part of its mission to give back and serve the community. So far, the response has been positive.

“The phones are starting to ring, and we’re starting to get more clients,” Sasse said.

Sasse said the clinic now sees around 10 people per week through its online offerings and hopes to partner with other frontline worker organizations, including firefighter organizations throughout the state.

Counseling sessions are offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through early May.

To book an appointment, call 713-525-3879.

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