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The Psychosocial Aspects of a Pandemic Virus

The human spirit and soul are at stake for clients and mental health professionals at the epicenter of the COVID-19 generation. The surge of medical, physical, and mental health disorders and the stench of death in hospitals and tent cities that are lying on the coronavirus battlefield reminds us of the frailty of human life. There is no beginning, middle, and end to a viral contagion that can morph into mutant variants and be transmissible within 24 hours. This is because infectious diseases and lethal viruses have been present throughout human history since the beginning of time.

The 6-hour continuing educational course, The Psychosocial Aspects of a Pandemic Virus, explores, highlights, and provides practical guidelines delineating the unique mental and psychosocial health characteristics of the COVID-19 pandemic and its mutant variants.

The material presented in this course differentiates viral pandemics from other natural disasters. It explores healthy-unhealthy, normal-abnormal behavior and clinically significant aspects that are unique to pandemics. The research and practitioner material offered in this course is based on the instructor’s 10th professional text; Counseling Practice During Phases of a Pandemic Virus (American Counseling Association/Wiley & Sons, 2021).

Currently, we are in the midst of a paradigm shift within the field of disaster mental health counseling and psychology. Preparing for a mental health crisis requires being attuned to the future mental health needs of adults, families, and children with strategies for prevention, intervention, and mental and psychosocial health treatment.

It would be naïve to think that once most of the world’s population has been vaccinated, the medical, physical, psychological, and psychosocial impacts of the COVID-19 virus would just disappear. Rabies still exists today, despite Louis Pasteur’s development of a successful vaccine in 1885. Despite the development of other vaccines such as the tetanus vaccine (1927), measles, mumps, and rubella (1971), hepatitis B (1982), and hepatitis A (1995), all these viruses have the potential to be a public health crisis in certain occupational settings and regions of the world. In the best-case scenario, epidemiologists and public health experts believe that if herd immunity is achieved through global immunization, COVID-19 and its mutant variants will be reduced to an endemic disease. Accordingly, it is anticipated that the mental and psychosocial health impacts of the COVID-19 virus have created a unique type of historical trauma. 

The literature in infectious disease, virology, epidemiology, public health, and mental health suggests the medical, physical, psychological, and psychosocial impact of COVID-19 and its mutant variants is anticipated to remain chronic, persistent, and virulent for many years to come. Accordingly, COVID-19 booster vaccinations and other disease mitigation measures will be required to maintain low incidence and prevalence to ensure that severe disease and hospitalization will not be required. The mental and psychosocial health concerns of the COVID-19 generation will require our attention for many years ahead due to the historical trauma that has resulted in serious illness and well over 600,000 coronavirus-related deaths. 

From a healing perspective, it is therapeutic for others to understand that we are all having a normal response to an abnormal critical event. Because there is no beginning, middle, and end to a viral contagion, then healing in and out of the phases of a pandemic virus is not a destination; rather, it becomes a journey of the human spirit. A major takeaway to this 6-hour continuing educational course is the Pandemic Risk and Resiliency Continuum (PRRC) model developed by the course instructor, which depicts the dynamic factors of risk and resiliency throughout phases of a pandemic virus. The work is unique for mental health and other behavioral health professionals, offering guidelines for therapeutic engagements in a variety of settings, individuals, and vulnerable populations.

By Mark A. Stebnicki, Ph.D., LCMHC, DCMHS, CRC, CMCC