Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Healing Hearts Counseling therapist Rebecca Atkins stands near two large bookshelves full of books she has collected through the years. Atkins is seeing more clients seeking therapy during COVID-19.
Photo by Chaunce Shrewsbury: Healing Hearts Counseling therapist Rebecca Atkins stands near two large bookshelves full of books she has collected through the years. Atkins is seeing more clients seeking therapy during COVID-19.

Eatonville’s only private therapy clinic, Healing Hearts Counseling, is seeing a steady increase of patients because of COVID-19, which are causing people to experience more anxiety, depression and lost feelings of future security.

Healing Hearts owner and therapist Rebecca Atkins said she has been busy teaching children coping skills, maintaining a positive outlook and how to normalize a world with masks and virtual school. Adults are now facing greater anxiety than before, depression and mental distress, Atkins said.

“People worry about the future, about themselves and they worry about how it is going to affect their kids,” she said. “Being able to normalize something when we don’t know what is going on has been really hard for the kids.”

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 45 percent of adults in the United States reported in April their mental health has been negatively affected because of COVID-19. A more recent poll by the Census Bureau and National Center for Heath Statistics reported, as of July 7, that 34 percent of Americans have symptoms of anxiety disorder, which is a sharp increase from the 8.2 percent reported last year by NCHS.

Atkins said the biggest stressor impacting people is the unknown nature of the pandemic. The abundance of opinions and information presented about COVID-19 on social media, mainstream media and from government officials has confused the issue and added to people's anxiety and frustration, she said.

The divisive nature of mask effectiveness has also been a contributing stressor, Atkins said. Wearing masks has always been considered the best practice for lowering the spread of disease, she said. Atkins worked as a certified nurse’s assistant, emergency medical technician and volunteer firefighter, where masks were regularly worn to prevent the spread of infection and disease.

Wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID 19 is necessary, Atkins noted, but the differing message over their effectiveness has contributed to people's challenges.

As well, Atkins understands the need for caution during COVID-19, but she said she is concerned with people’s discomfort in leaving their homes because remaining indoors can create additional mental health issues.

Atkins stresses in her practice that nature and outdoor activity are necessary for proper mental health and incorporates “nature therapy” into a lot of her methodology. Nature therapy consists of outdoor activities such as hiking, sitting by the river, centering emotions through people’s senses and outside breathing techniques.

“I’ve had kids that come in and are frustrated about something so I’d [say], ‘Let’s go for a walk. Let’s go down to the river, and throw some rocks to be able to get that out,’ ” she said. “By the time they are done with that, they are able to think and process.”

The government shutdowns and restrictions because of COVID-19 has made nature therapy difficult, Atkins said. Until recently, she was restricted to conducting only teletherapy. She now staggers in-person and teletherapy appointments to ensure her office is sanitary for the next patient.

Once the state opens further, Atkins and her intern will begin group therapy sessions doing overnight hiking and camping trips.

And although Healing Heart is busy with clients, Atkins said she worries not enough people are visiting her or other providers because of the stigma around needing counseling or mental health services.

Atkins said she hopes that people change their view of counseling, particularly in a time when it is well needed.

“With counseling, we don’t have to be dealing with something astronomical,” she said. “Sometimes it is just having that person that is non-judgmental and non-bias.”

In the same way people go to a banker for financial advice or the doctor when they need medical advice, counseling is a tool to help cope with life’s difficulties, Atkins said. She said she hopes people will begin looking at counseling as a place to learn things as they would anywhere else.

“Counseling isn’t about me giving advice,” she said. “It is about me giving you the skills to come up with something yourself.”

Atkins said the Eatonville community means a lot to her. She believes how people come together and support each other will determine how communities overcome their struggles.

“I’m part of this community as a healer, and I’m not going anywhere for a while,” Atkins said. “I love [the] people.”

Atkins has provided mental health services in Eatonville since 2014 after obtaining her masters degree in counseling and psychology from Brandman University. She provides cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive process therapy, nature therapy, teaches yoga and is training to become certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.

Healing Hearts Counseling is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at 207 Center St. E, Suite E. The clinic can be contacted by calling 253-254-3747, hhcllc.org or on Facebook.