With this pandemic and the mandate to shelter in place, telehealth, which includes teletherapy and online therapy, is on the rise. Most therapists and mental health professionals have moved their practices online. While this may work for some, there are many people, therapists and clients alike, who are struggling to make the change.
For you therapists, transitioning to providing services online or over the phone may be challenging. There are some legitimate challenges to telehealth for mental health professionals. But there also some benefits and reasons why it’s a good idea.
It’s also important to note that there are many people with severe mental illnesses or who at risk of self-harm or suicide for whom telehealth is not particularly appropriate or effective. This post focuses on clients who are not high risk and who could ultimately benefit from telehealth.
The challenges of telehealth for therapists
I was talking with one therapist who has moved to teletherapy, and she said that the biggest issue she’s having with her clients is that they’re getting distracted easily. In an office, there are few things to distract clients during a session. No one is coming in and out of the room, there isn’t a significant other on a phone conference, there aren’t kids running around looking for attention.
In addition to distractions, one major difficulty that you are facing is the lack of ability to make a connection with your clients. If you’re talking via Skype or Zoom, eye contact is out the window. Therapy by phone removes the visual of the person altogether. While having a session via video call or phone is better than no session at all, it makes it difficult for both you and your clients to feel connected.
Creative arts therapists are facing extreme challenges in providing therapy to their clients. You’re trying to run an art therapy session virtually or conducting a dance/movement therapy session without being able to move with your clients. Creative arts therapists are figuring out creative ways to engage with their clients via video calls, but of course, it’s not the same. And no one knows how long this is going to last.
The upside to telehealth
There are some positive sides to telehealth, however. Many people who aren’t usually able to get out and make it to a therapy session in person have the option to receive therapy from the comfort of their own homes. This is especially true for senior citizens, who are in the high-risk category for contracting the coronavirus and who are also among the loneliest and most isolated people in the entire population. For senior citizens, telehealth can be a true lifeline.
Telehealth removes those barriers to getting in the door.
It provides a certain level of privacy. For people who hate waiting rooms because they cause anxiety, virtual therapy is perfect. They don’t run the risk of running into anyone they know and they eliminate the anticipatory anxiety of sitting in a waiting room before a therapy session.
It also takes away a lot of the anxiety that clients feel when going to therapy, especially in the first session. Aside from not having to wait in the waiting room, they can fill their space with things that they find comforting and can create a space in which they feel safe. Since establishing safety and trust is essential in therapy, being able to attend their telehealth therapy session in a space that feels comforting and safe is crucial.
Telehealth provides the flexibility to fit your clients’ needs. It also gets rid of the commute, another piece of the puzzle that can cause anxiety.
It’s also a way to keep people safe and healthy during this time of social distancing due to COVID-19. If someone is ill they can still receive the mental health services they need. Even if clients are not ill, they can still get therapy in a safe way.
The need for telehealth in the time of the coronavirus
With social distancing and self-quarantining, many people are in need of someone to talk to. Whether they have a mental health diagnosis or are simply lonely, scared and anxious about the state of things, teletherapy provides an opportunity to get the mental health help that clients may never have known they needed.
Telehealth for therapists is even more crucial now than it ever has been because for most of you it’s the only way you can work with your clients. If you do have a client who has the coronavirus, they can still receive mental health services. This is huge because if they have the virus they’re probably in isolation, are afraid, and can’t see their loved ones. Having a therapy lifeline may actually make their lives a little more bearable. Plus it gives them someone to talk to and create with, for my creative arts therapists.
Regardless of your comfort level with telehealth, it’s your job as a therapist to provide the best care you can for your clients. In this case, this may mean adjusting your entire practice and the way you communicate with your clients.
For therapists that work with children, telehealth can be particularly difficult. Most of your therapy probably include some form of play, which can be difficult to do over a Skype or Zoom call.
Therapy is reciprocal, and it can be hard to feel that reciprocity online or over the phone. While telehealth is necessary during this pandemic, it puts a barrier between you and your clients. For creative arts therapists, there’s the added challenge of figuring out how to use your modality to facilitate the therapy.
Many of you have to adjust your expectations and techniques. Adjusting expectations is a big one because you don’t necessarily know what to expect anymore. At least when you meet with clients in your office, you know the space, you know what is distracting and can plan for that, and you know how you’re going to interact with your clients.
Using telehealth changes the way you engage with your clients for sure, but it offers a chance for you to grow and evolve as a therapist. There are certain techniques that no longer apply to your work and this switch to telehealth is an opportunity to embrace new therapeutic techniques.
Resources and tools for all therapists
For creative arts therapists, there are several resources out there for help with transitioning to telehealth. Here are links for the following modalities:
Here is an article for creative arts therapists
Here is another article for all creative arts therapists about telehealth:
For music therapists
For art therapists
Here is a webinar about moving to telehealth for dance/movement therapists
For therapists who aren’t in the creative arts therapy family, there are a number of resources for you regarding telehealth. Here are a couple:
For all my therapist friends, hang in there, you’re doing great! Take a look at the resources listed above and continue to support one another as you move through this difficult time. Take advantage of supervision and create some peer support groups with other therapists. Most importantly, take care of yourselves so that you can better help your clients.