Teletherapy in the Time of COVID-19
Within the last decade, more therapists and patients have moved to online therapy or teletherapy for its convenience and privacy. Numerous studies have shown mental health counseling by phone or video conference is just as effective as in-person sessions, as well.
Today, though, with the continuing closures of non-essential business and limitations on discretionary travel as COVID-19 cases spread across the United States, telehealth services like teletherapy and online therapy are becoming less of a choice and more of a necessity. And in many ways, Americans can benefit from therapy services now more than ever before.
COVID-19 and Your Mental Health
Recently, researchers Nidal Moukaddam, M.D., Ph.D., and Asim Shah, M.D. wrote in Psychiatric Times about the various potential mental health impacts of the COVID-19 epidemic. They expect “mood problems, sleep issues, phobia-like behaviors, and panic-like symptoms” to increase. They also “anticipate the effects of infectious disease threats to manifest as sheer anxiety and panic,” such as worry about oneself and others contracting coronavirus and anxiety over the lack of definitive treatment. Also, people with obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) are prone to contamination obsessions, and their cleaning or hand-washing compulsions are exacerbated. Even psychotic disorders are being fueled by what the researchers refer to as “medical mistrust conspiracy theories.”
People suffering from substance abuse disorders are also finding themselves in a quandary. COVID-19 social distancing recommendations have canceled traditional Alcoholics Anonymous group meetings in one of the most challenging situations members can face.
Who is offering teletherapy?
Like many other organizations, many Alcoholics Anonymous chapters have started using digital platforms for virtual group meetings because even in a time of COVID-19 quarantines, treatment for health conditions must continue.
In New York, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently asked mental health professionals to volunteer to provide free online therapy sessions for residents, and 6,000 therapists signed up.
“We’ve talked about the emotional stress that this brings on people,” Cuomo said in a news briefing. “And the mental health stress, and mental health challenges. No one’s really talking about this. You know, we’re all concerned about the immediate critical need. The life and death of the immediate situation, which is right. But don’t underestimate the emotional trauma that people are feeling, and the emotional health issues.”
After the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that healthcare providers start providing some of their services remotely, therapists in private practice across the United States who hadn’t already begun offering teletherapy to their patients decided to try it out. They set up HIPAA-compliant teletherapy platforms (Skype and FaceTime are currently not compliant with patient confidentiality and privacy rules) and initiating live video connections so they can be there for their patients at this critical time. Even if your current counselor didn’t offer teletherapy before the COVID-19 crisis, they might very well provide it now.
Adapting to Teletherapy
Transitioning from a face-to-face, in-person therapy session to one where you’re not in the same room (or perhaps even the same town or state) as your therapist can be a bit daunting, or a bit awkward, at first. There may be some slight delays in your responses to one another due to your respective internet connections, but otherwise, your conversation will be in real-time.
Your therapist may experiment with multiple teletherapy channels like video, online chat, text, or phone calls. One of these might be a better fit for your therapy sessions than the others, so don’t hesitate to ask your therapist for alternatives.
This is a great time to embrace some of the benefits of teletherapy. Enjoy your ability to take part in online therapy from the comfort of your home, where your favorite cat and coffee mug are within reach. Appreciate the fact that your appointment will start on time, and you’ll make it on time because there’s no need to travel.
At the same time, though, you should take your online therapy sessions seriously. Make sure you’re calling, chatting, or logging in from a private space with little chance of interruptions or distractions. And don’t worry about sharing your current fears about COVID-19, anxiety about the health and wellbeing of the older people in your life, or the challenges of homeschooling or working remotely. All of your concerns are well worth mentioning to your therapist, even if they’re not the kinds of things you usually discuss. You may also schedule more frequent sessions to address your needs during this extraordinary time.
Don’t hesitate to get help.
At the Therapy Group of DC, we’re here to help you get through COVID-19 and the mental and emotional struggles that come with it. We’re using secure, HIPAA-compliant technology to provide the best confidential online therapy experience possible for our existing patients as well as the new ones we’d like to welcome to our practice.
We invite you to make an appointment today for a dedicated, personalized online therapy experience.