By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
The COVID-19 pandemic has left many people feeling isolated, stressed and anxious. U.S. adults reported much more elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19 or about 40.9% of adults, according to the latest study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention conducted in June.
In order to tackle this and the uncertain times people are facing, Harmony Community Development Corporation is offering individuals counseling sessions with a therapist through its counseling program, Harmony Counseling.
The program was created to meet the needs of the community almost 20 years ago, according to Dr. Brenda Richardson Rowe, who leads the center as its director of counseling.
“Harmony Community Development Corporation was established as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in 2001 by Concord Church under the leadership of Rev. Dr. E. K. Bailey, our founding pastor,” Rowe said. “We were doing the best we could at that time. In 2007, our current pastor, Dr. Bryan Carter, actually relooked at Harmony and reset the board and continued. Actually Harmony Counseling was initially the Concord Counseling Center. Harmony actually birthed out of Concord. We are like the community arm of Concord Church.”
The organization has three major programs which include counseling, a food pantry and a resource center.
“In counseling, we provide Christ-centered counseling and individual, couple and family counseling,” Rowe said. “We also provide children and youth and groups and various educational webinars. Our focus has been on a lot on the community, getting out in the community and raising the awareness of mental health and decreasing the stigma of mental health. And that is kind of the whole focus of the counseling center.”
They are located in Southern Dallas and the food pantry is there to help families and individuals in need.
“We live in a food desert in terms of where we are located in Southern Dallas and we have been focused on providing nutritional food for the community,” she said. “Several years ago, we actually got grant funding that actually helped us rebuild the food pantry and it actually looks like a small 7-11. It really gives hope back to people as they go in and get the food. They can actually go in and shop and ask questions about nutritional values and what they actually would get would be food as they are used to and the food that they would eat.”
Due to the pandemic, the group had to put the food in the box and deliver it to people’s cars or put it in the trunk of the car of the recipients.
Furthermore, the pandemic has caused their nonprofit to start doing teletherapy sessions.
“Then we have a resource center and the resource center is really built around helping people prepare for employment, get their resumes prepared, teaching them basic work ethic and we partner with different organizations and companies within the community that will hire people,” she said. “One of the things that we have found is that it’s not just getting the job, it is having the skills to keep the job. So we focus on teaching people what is expected of them as an employee. What does timeliness look like, what does it mean that you take your break, how do you call in and what’s the normal working culture that your environment is in? What is going to be expected of you in terms of your behavior.”
They also do some mental health assessment and physical health assessment.
“We are trying to make sure that people can be as healthy as they can be wholisticially to be able to maintain their jobs,” Rowe said. “Our whole focus is to be a one stop shop in terms of meeting an individual’s needs and God is positioning us to do more and more and to look more and more like that.
Let’s say someone comes to counseling and they say they are anxious or have anxiety and they are not sleeping well. We find out they lost their income. That’s where a lot of the anxiety comes from. We try to say what can we do to help resolve this and move you forward in the process.”
In 2021, Harmony Community Development Corporation will launch a health and wellness program.
“That will then go on not only from the emotional and spiritual peace of that but go on and look at the physical health part of it and teach basic how to take care of yourself in terms of a healthy perspective,” she said. We are trying to get to that place where we are kind of a one stop where you come in and no matter what program you enter into, you have access to all of them.”
Rowe said during the pandemic, they have seen an increase in the number of people seeking counseling.
“We had to pivot very fast,” Rowe said. “Our plan was to format and switch over to some teletherapy over the summer. It happened because the country shut down. They stay with their same therapist but with teletherapy, they don’t come into the office. I was amazed at how many people really liked it once they got over the initial change in helping people buy back time. Teletherapy is here to stay and it is something that won’t go away.
“Even when people come in, we won’t have a waiting room. It’s a big change and people are really adjusting to it being able to take your counseling with you and not miss your sessions.”
Rowe said counseling can benefit everyone.
“One of the biggest issues of counseling is identifying and acknowledging what we need,” she said. “For all of us we go through various things in life such as stress, of strain and one of the things counseling helps to do is talk therapy. It will help you to talk about what is going on and the therapist is educated to help you identify various tools and techniques to help you cope with things you are coping with.”
Rowe gave experiencing grief as an example.
“So many people have been taught during grief that they are not supposed to talk about it but that is not true about grief,” she said. “If you lost a loved one and you are going through a certain amount of stress and depression and anger, all of those are normal stages of grief. When you find yourself kind of stuck or lingering longer than that then you may need to get assistance from a therapist to help you and that is just everyday kind of life stressors.”
Grief can also come in different forms according to Rowe.
“Losing jobs, right now this is one of the most devastating times that we are coming upon because of COVID because everybody is grieving whether you know you are grieving or not,” she said. People think grieving is only the loss of a loved one. Grieving is about loss so if you lost your job, if you lost time contact in terms of going to the office and connecting with your peers in working and how you do things at work. All of that is considered loss. And we all have grief about that in addition if you lost a loved one, or family member or friend to COVID.”
Rowe noted that the overall goal is to help people come through this season in our lives living healthier lives.
“If we look back, we are a country out of order,” Rowe said. “Everything rotates around work. Not family, not friends, not worship, but work. So the reality is the more you work the less successful you are because you don’t have the foundation or are not building any type of spiritual foundation whatever that looks like for you.You don’t have the connection with your family or friends and you are not building those ongoing relationships so prayerfully, this is the time people can take step back in marriages to rebuild some of those and reorder things in a correct order for this.”
Harmony Counseling is a Christian counseling center but offers services for everyone despite their religious beliefs. They usually have about 1500 counseling sessions a year.
“COVID has brought mental health to the forefront in terms of how many people are actually struggling with their life with basic mental health issues and also diagnosable whether it’s bipolar or schizophrenia,” she said. “People are wanting to know more about mental health and how to stay healthy. About a month and a half ago we received a grant from the city of Dallas to provide three free sessions of counseling to individuals that live in the Dallas Proper area taking that barrier of cost away and being able to provide counseling at no cost has brought more and more people into counseling.”
Rowe believes decreasing the stigma of what counseling means is important.
“Some of the younger people are more open than some of their parents or parent’s parents and more of it is just a lack of understanding and fear when we say what does it mean if I say that I am having a mental health issue? It means that you are trying to stay mentally well and if you don’t do something to stay mentally well you will end up with some mental health issues,” she said.
She compared how some people feel about mental health issues to the scenes from a movie called One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“What that movie depicted was a state hospital where everybody is in a locked unit and everybody has a severe mental health diagnosis,” Rowe said. “When you say mental health, that is what people think about. They think about that small percentage and that is only 1% or 2% of people with mental health issues to that severity.
Helping people to educate and helping people to understand that learning how to cope with things and learning tools and techniques to help you to cope helps keep you in a healthy mentally state in life.”
More information about the program can be found at http://www.harmonycdc.org.