Mary Fennelly, a therapist from Mt. Airy, is offering free mental health counseling during the pandemic.

by Suzanne Cloud

COVID-19 has us all anxious and a bit frightened. Our jobs have disappeared since the shutdown, our paychecks have drowned in our monthly income stream, and our kids are home from school — until heaven knows when. Their teachers have loaded daily online lessons into Zoom, and mom and dad juggle the technology with squirming kids who absolutely do NOT want to read, write or solve math problems now that summer has begun three months early.

You may remember the viral BBC interview a few years back of a father being invaded by his strutting 4-month-old daughter followed by a 9-month-old baby in a walker while in his home office. Sure, it was hilarious, but parents today are going through that every day working from home, and their bosses are not amused.

Nerves are running ragged, and stress is shredding our usual coping mechanisms. Sleep is illusory; our appetites have been dulled by the crap delivered by Grub Hub, Uber Eats, Door Dash or the pizza place down the street. The wine in the fridge that usually lasts a week is now gone in two days. How can you cope? Where can you turn?

Well, a semi-retired therapist from Mt. Airy named Mary Fennelly is offering her stressed out neighbors some phone help pro bono. She has a master’s degree in erhabilitation counseling from San Francisco State University, is a licensed behavioral specialist, and she’s ready to help parents and children through these tough times.

 “It’s what I do and what I love to do,” she said. “I’ve worked in schools and with kids from so many different backgrounds and different situations.”

Like many older health professionals, Fennelly, who is 60-ish, wants to offer her expertise in this time of need. “I came to this revelation just before this COVID situation. And I have lots of experience with phone counseling and hot line advice.”

Speaking with exasperated parents, she first asks about specific behaviors taking place in the home and then wants to find out what the parents have been doing and what they have tried.

Phone therapy has gotten mass acceptance in the mental health field in recent years, and in some ways, patients can feel less threatened by a voice on the line than a physical presence in a chair nearby. According to an article for WebMD, “Phone Psychotherapy: Fewer Hang-ups? Telephone Psychotherapy as Effective as Face-to-Face Sessions, Study Shows,” phone therapy is just as effective as traditional face-to-face sessions, and patients tend to stay with the phone therapy longer.

The Chestnut Hill Local first became aware of Ms. Fennelly’s altruism through a classified ad she recently placed in the paper offering her services for free to frazzled parents and agitated children thrown together for weeks on end because of the coronavirus. Such generosity isn’t always seen these days with reports of folks stampeding each other to pluck the last roll of toilet paper from the grocery shelf.

But people in the helping professions are different. Nurses still go to work without proper protective gowns and masks. Doctors still preside for long hours keeping watch over their patients while pleading for ventilators and gloves. Delivery people bring the food the elderly can’t shop for, putting themselves in jeopardy.

Mary Fennelly said she is ready and willing to “share my wisdom over the phone” to help her neighbors who may be at the end of their rope during these crazy times. She did not receive any calls for a few days after her ad ran in the April 2 issue, but this sweet professional with a large heart is confident her time will be put to good use by the people who need her. Her number is 267-600-0306. Go ahead, give her a call. It might make your tomorrow just a bit brighter.

Suzanne Cloud, a local writer, historian and jazz singer.

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