Elizabeth Minne, Virtual Vida for Austin ISD Students

When Elizabeth Minne, Ph.D. ‘06, founder of the Vida Clinics, learned that Austin Independent School District was closing schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her team quickly made plans to pivot from in-person counseling to online services.

Working through spring break, March 16-20, the school-based mental health clinic that serves 4,000-5,000 students annually, created Virtual Vida, an online tele-therapy platform. It supports continuity of care for current student client and the ability to accept new ones across the school district. 

Here’s what the College of Education learned during a recent conversation with Minne.

Why did you launch Virtual Vida?

Mental health support is more important than ever in this strange, sometimes frightening place we all find ourselves. In collaboration with Austin Independent School District (AISD), we created Virtual Vida to help students, school staff and family members access quality mental health services from the comfort of their own home.

Our licensed therapists are available to diagnose mental health conditions, support ongoing issues, and prevent adverse behaviors. Above all, we are here to reassure our clients, existing and new, that they are not alone and someone is here to help.

How does social distancing psychologically affect children of different ages?

While it’s true that social distancing can be distressing for isolated youth, it’s important to remember that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. As adults, we should be attuned to the cues of individual children, giving each child or teen ample opportunities to talk about their experiences during this unique time. Young children may find it difficult to express themselves verbally due to their developmental level, so we should also view younger children’s behavior as important communication about their inner- experiences.

As a parent of four children of different ages, what sort of things have you implemented in your home to adjust to remote learning?

In my household, we are all trying to remain curious and interested in what each new day holds with the understanding that we are all doing our best. It is truly delightful to see how, even in a time of social distancing, our school and community have really stepped up to provide many opportunities for kids to remain connected with others and to continue learning and even participate in after-school activities. I am trying to embrace that learning will continue, but it will look different for now, and that is okay.  

What is some of the best advice you can muster for parents who are trying to work remotely while their kids are home?

It may perhaps be helpful for parents to remember that, while we are doing our best to merge our professional lives into the home, these are not normal times. There are many messy moments. You are not failing. You are not alone. Keep your expectations of yourself realistic.  

What can all of us learn during this unprecedented shared experience?

This is a good time to consider the benefits of being gentle on ourselves and others. We psychologists like to encourage the practice of something called “radical self-acceptance.” That means to recognize all things about yourself and your situation and regard it without self-judgment or shame. We have all been thrown into an unthinkable situation, and we are all doing the best we can together. Simply allowing ourselves time to be aware of the shared experience that we are all enduring together can be healing, meaningful and empowering.   

Any final practical words of advice for parents during this period of uncertainty?

Remember that behavioral issues are to be expected in kids right now. Prioritize connecting with your children. Hold off on implementing new behavioral or discipline plans for now. Also, remember that one of the best teaching tools we have is that of role modeling. Teach your kids healthy coping skills by using them in your own life. And finally, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Technology allows us to be more connected than ever. Create a system of support around your child, from family friends to mental health professionals. Be intentional about having your child routinely connect virtually with these individuals.