A New Day Counseling Center Embraces Telehealth to Connect with Clients

Debbie Woo at A New Day

When the COVID-19 outbreak began shuttering businesses last year, A New Day Counseling Center had no choice but to move all appointments to a virtual format. At the time, the world of telehealth was somewhat unfamiliar territory for the clinic, which is located at Western Seminary’s Portland campus.

“A few counselors had some experience with virtual appointments, but overall we had no idea how to run a telehealth clinic with all of our counselors working from home,” admits Debbie Woo, LPC, Director of A New Day and Western Seminary graduate. “There was uncertainty about how it would survive without an in-person option.”

The transition was a bit clunky at first, as the clinic staff had to quickly adjust to new technology and makeshift workspaces from their homes. But they quickly rallied together to ensure that they could continue supporting their clients in the midst of the pandemic. Within a month, the clinic was providing the same number of counseling sessions as before the pandemic hit.

“I was so grateful to God for his provision, not only for the clinic, but also for our clients who have been able to receive uninterrupted support during such difficult times,” says Woo. “There is so much suffering in our world right now. Anxiety, depression and suicide are on the rise. People are struggling to know where God is in all of this, and a counselor is someone who can help you find a way back to hope.”

By the fall, A New Day was averaging more clients than ever before, thanks in part to the added convenience that accompanies telehealth. Going virtual has expanded the clinic’s reach to all of Oregon, and also to a number of international clients. What’s more, some of the typical barriers to in-person appointments, like sickness, childcare and transportation, are no longer factors.

Woo acknowledges that telehealth isn’t for everyone, though. Some clients have had a difficult time adjusting to virtual appointments, and the human connection can sometimes get lost across a computer screen.

“I had a client the other day who really needed that in-person connection. So I suggested that we social distance while walking around the Western campus, which worked in that specific situation.”

The clinic has begun meeting with a small number of clients in the office as well (with social distancing, masks, and other safety measures in place). However, the majority of visits are still virtual, and Woo expects that the move to telehealth will be a permanent change on some level, even after the pandemic is over.

“There are just so many benefits to being able to provide telehealth sessions, and we have been able to expand our services in so many ways.”

A New Day was launched at Western’s Portland campus in 2012 to be an arm of Western’s counseling program, where students can train under the supervision of faculty. Having an on-campus clinic helps meet the requirements for CACREP accreditation, which gives graduates the ability to obtain licensure in many other states with minimal additional work. Students also get the benefit of learning while doing alongside licensed professional counselors with years of clinical experience. Some students have even come back as employees while they work on their licensure hours and eventually establish their practices as licensed counselors at A New Day.

A New Day is currently staffed by eight licensed counselors, one clinical psychologist, five registered interns and 2-4 practicum students. The wide array of staff and counseling services allows the clinic to personalize the care dependent on a client’s financial situation and specific mental health needs. Most of the referrals to the clinic come from someone who is connected to Western in some way. Woo hopes that A New Day will continue to be a vital resource for local churches in the community.

“The pandemic leaves a lot of people feeling powerless, which stirs up a lot of stuff that has gone unhealed,” says Woo. “As Christian counselors, we want to help with that healing.”

Learn more about Western's Master of Arts in Counseling Degree offered at the Portland campus, and visit A New Day's website.