Business, News

Falls Church Small Businesses Face the Pandemic: Sunstone Counseling

As the pandemic disrupts life across the globe, everyone is being forced to adapt and make sacrifices during the unprecedented crisis. None may be more affected than small businesses, with many being forced to temporarily shutter or adapt operations due to a new normal ushered in by state regulations and social distancing measures. 

According to a recent study from SmartAsset, the City of Falls Church ranks third overall in best places for small businesses and more than 29 percent of City residents depend on small business income, the fifth highest figure in the state.   

The News-Press has asked Falls Church area businesses to share their pandemic challenges and struggles and how the virus has affected operations and the adaptations they’ve had to make in response. Each week, we’ll be sharing their stories.

Today’s featured business: Sunstone Counseling.

Sunstone Counseling, a Falls Church mental health counseling practice, opened in 2015 with a vision to serve the local community’s mental health needs by providing comprehensive, accessible, and high-quality counseling services seven days a week. We’ve since opened two more locations, Old Town Alexandria and McLean, and grown our team to over 30 licensed counselors, residents, and interns.

Our diverse counseling team quickly pivoted, initially over the span of just a few days, from an entirely in-person service format to a distance counseling, virtual format. We made the decision to change our format before any mandatory social distancing guidelines were enacted because it aligned so clearly with our core values of compassion, courage, and resilience. Educating ourselves and our clients about what distance counseling is, how privacy is protected, and ways to optimize this experience has been instrumental in our successful transition. Many of us are now researchers of and guides to a counseling format that we didn’t anticipate using quite so soon!

We’ve worked hard over this past month to adapt counseling approaches like play therapy, art therapy, and mind-body approaches to translate over screens where we often see each other just from the waist up and are surrounded by distractions. In my work as a holistic counselor I utilize embodiment approaches like body awareness, breathwork, and simple movement to help people connect to their bodies. This helps us become more emotionally aware/agile, identify needs and respond to them, and self soothe/cope more effectively. Shifting my in-person work to distance counseling has taken creativity and flexibility. Over the past weeks this looked like collaborating with clients to prepare at-home therapy kits that contained tools we use in the office: stones, essential oils, tea, and creative art supplies as well as engaging with an online community of like-minded counselors to learn more about applying these approaches virtually.

We’ve had to share with clarity and purpose why the service we provide is worthwhile to Virginians during a time of such uncertainty; of course, we believe that there is no better time than a pandemic to begin therapy. But, as more of our current and potential clients find weekly therapy sessions no longer financially viable, we’ve adapted to provide alternate scheduling options, at-home resources, and group-based services to reduce costs while increasing accessibility. For example, I’ve begun providing webinars to companies who are embracing compassionate leadership and looking to support their employee’s mental well-being, and many counselors within Sunstone are now providing virtual support groups for a wide variety of concerns.   

We’re doing all of this while managing and soothing our own stress as fellow people in this new world. To show up as effective, empathic counselors we must put on our own oxygen masks first; this situation is challenging for us too! Now more than ever the role of collaboration and increased connection to one another is essential. We’re adjusting as we work: as a collective. Together is how we’ll make it through.

— MJ Harford, resident in counseling

124D E. Broad St., Falls Church 22046,

Tell us the history of your Falls Church small business, how the virus has affected your operation and the adaptations, struggles and more you’re facing during this unprecedented crisis. Photos, along with the commentaries, are welcome and encouraged. Please send submissions, up to 500 words, to