By: Kelsey Johnson

For the last two years, I’ve sat across from countless children and youth, holding space for them as they navigate life’s ups and downs. One of my favorite moments is when youth realize that I'm not a teacher or school employee, but actually a therapist whose sole responsibility it is to support their mental and emotional health. They can enter my office knowing they will leave feeling heard, seen, and validated without judgment. Like most people, when schools and workplaces shut down in March, I was worried about the impact this would have on my ability to support the young people I work with in the Youth and Family Services TIDES Counseling Program.

TIDES is a Medi-Cal funded Full-Service Partnership, EPSDT (Early Prevention, Diagnostics, and Treatment) program that offers support to youth and their families by providing a variety of counseling services. We serve students and community members (ages 5-21), and their families, who are struggling with emotional or behavioral problems. TIDES therapists, like myself, work closely with school personnel and community agencies to enhance the effectiveness of therapeutic services.

Because I work with youth in school settings, school closures presented a challenge to my team as it did the amazing parents and school staff throughout San Diego County. Despite these challenges, we quickly found ways to pivot and offer support through teletherapy. Like many around the world, San Diego families have been deeply impacted by Covid-19. I have experienced a heightened sense of anxiety from clients and families regarding the pandemic. Some of the parents in our program have been unfortunately laid off from work or have had significantly decreased hours at their jobs. And yet, amidst this stress, I have witnessed my clients become creative in ways I had not seen before. I have been able to incorporate music, art, games, and storytelling into my virtual therapy sessions to keep clients engaged during these "socially distant" times. Telehealth therapy sessions have allowed me to see into my clients' worldviews - a perspective that is very new to me!

The one thing that has remained unchanged, despite these immensely challenging times, is the fact that kids are so incredibly resilient and self-aware! The kids I work with are so unique - I love being able to identify specific strengths of each client and using these strengths in our work together to create lasting change.

Though the format may have changed, my mission as a therapist has remained the same: to help children and families work together to learn new positive ways to meet their needs. Whether it's challenging maladaptive thinking, teaching helpful coping mechanisms, or simply validating someone's feelings or experiences; small steps in the right direction can lead to such incredible progress. The ability I have to connect with my clients and be a consistent positive person in their lives, whether in person or via tele-therapy, is a gift I hope I never take for granted.

Kelsey Johnson is a TIDES Counseling Program Therapist at Youth and Family Services. She is an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor (#7117) and received her Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from The University of San Diego. She is passionate about building strong connections and allowing people to feel validated, heard, and seen. During Covid-19, she has been practicing self-care through gardening, baking, and lots of snuggles with her dog, Bentley!