Mental Health Care for Providers on Front Lines

Clinical Mental Health Counseling Student Blog

By: Kyle Zaber, EdD-CMHC, SP specialization student

First responder mental health

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all. Through stay-at-home orders, lack of sporting events and opportunities to participate, modifications in workload and work location, to becoming parent-teachers, or social interaction via technology only, we’ve all been asked to adjust to a new “normal.” This demand on our time, energy and emotions has impacted none more so than those within the health care industry. Care providers around the world are being thrust into an extraordinary demand unlike any we’ve experienced in modern medical history. As an adviser of workforce engagement, I partner with leaders in hospitals and hospital systems across the country to help reduce patient suffering by enhancing and sustaining an engaged and resilient workforce. The COVID-19 outbreak has demonstrated the best in those that serve our communities as health care professionals. They have risen to the challenge and have been exceptional in their battle to reduce patient-suffering.

While leaders in hospitals and hospital systems are happy to share their praise of their front-line staff, they are also quick to share their concern regarding long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their workforce. Many have used words and phrases such as, PTSD, anxiety and depression to describe their fears of the second battle soon to come, that of their workforce’s mental health in a prolonged-pandemic setting. Their fears are justified as a meta-analysis conducted by Brooks et al. (2020) indicated that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression are higher for front-line health care staff in a post-epidemic/pandemic setting (e.g. SARS, Ebola). Furthermore, Brooks et al. (2020) discovered that some health care professionals struggle to recover from the effects brought on by the pandemic and choose to leave the medical profession altogether. The trauma inflicted as a result of this pandemic is not fully known, nor will it be until we are safe to transition back to what more closely resembles “normal,” but l believe a strong commitment to serving those who chose to serve others during this pandemic will be needed immediately.

As a student in the UWS clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) program, I believe my education and training is supporting me to be in a unique position to help mitigate the effects COVID-19 in more ways than one. First, my training as a counseling intern has taught me to listen first, ask questions for context and allow others to share freely. As an adviser of workforce engagement, these skills will be essential in understanding my clients’ needs to foster an engaged and resilient workforce. While many hospitals and hospital systems will share overlapping characteristics as a result of COVID-19, just like the clients I serve through internship, each hospital and each hospital system are unique having been impacted by this pandemic in their own way.

Second, UWS’s unique combination of CMHC training and performance psychology training, have enhanced my ability to help my clients find and utilize strengths to enhance the impact of their services. I believe those in the health care industry come to the field with a desire to help others be and feel better. This pandemic has been a tremendous test of the resolve of front-line health care staff as the virus, at times, has proven too strong for their interventions. I fear these are the memories that will be triggered in the prolonged-pandemic minds of front-line staff. While this is understandable, I believe it will be necessary to help work with my clients to find areas in which their strengths yielded positive outcomes for patients and to process what strengths enhanced their teams’ call to service. Through my Psychology of Performance Excellence course, we were informed how reinforcing one’s strengths can help enhance one’s task engagement.

At this time, as the world responds to the demands of COVID-19, those in the counseling arena will be called upon to help our communities adjust to their new normal. Those of us engaged in our online learning through UWS will be in a unique position to assist through tele-health services while we social distance to beat the spread of the virus. All of us in the counseling field will be positioned to serve our communities and positively impact the mental health of those in need once we are safe to return to face-to-face services. I’d like to conclude by thanking all health care professionals who are working tirelessly to battle COVID-19. As mentioned, I’m in a privileged position to hear about the best of what health care providers, hospital leaders and hospital directors are doing to combat this pandemic. It is their courage and service that enhances my desire to be present for them during and after this difficult period. I hope everyone reading this is safe, healthy and well.


Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: Rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet, 395, 912-920.