Therapist Talks Positives and Negatives of Telehealth in the Wake of Covid
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Ashanti McCormick has been seeing her therapist for three years, but when the coronavirus pandemic befell upon the globe, she wasn't sure if she wanted to continue her sessions. "For me, being in the same room as my therapist is so important for my sessions. There's something about that face-to-face interaction," said the twenty-four-year-old.
The Huntsville, Alabama practice, which McCormick frequented, made all of their services virtual at the beginning of the pandemic. Today, the state initiated, what they call, an amended Safer at Home Order, which recommends that individuals minimize travel outside of the home.
"I know I wanted to stay safe, especially since the virus is kind of crazy here. I decided to switch to virtual sessions," said McCormick. Though apprehensive at first, McCormick says talking to her therapist through a computer screen wasn't as bad as she thought it would be.
"I think the key is finding that quiet space for the session. Living in an apartment can make it difficult to set the right mood," said McCormick. She listed her dog, noise from the neighbors, and her roommate as potential distractions during therapy.
While teletherapy has made mental health treatment more accessible, the use of technology is not a new phenomenon, but it has struck a chord with Millennials. “Being digital natives, millennials are naturally drawn to apps and online services,” said clinical psychologist Sonya Bruner, Ph.D. in a 2019 interview with CNBC. Bruner is a former clinical director of BetterHelp.com, one of the leading telehealth platforms where 60% of the clients are between the ages of 23 and 28, according to the article.
The transition to telehealth has created significant changes for not only clients but the therapists as well. Tiphani Moss, a fourth-year clinical psychology doctoral student at Wright State University, says that when the pandemic hit, therapists had to act fast, "When we think about teletherapy and doing therapy remotely, that in itself is almost a specialty. When we had to switch to remote, we had to get competent really quickly. That's part of our ethics code, is to not practice outside of your scope."
Tiphani Moss after completing her graduate degree
Moss discussed the various obstacles that therapists face when conducting sessions remotely. "Technology can be an issue. There have been so many times where zoom wasn't working or it went down or someone's Wi-Fi is messed up. There is feedback or you can't hear, the audio isn't working. Trying to navigate all those things while also doing the work just adds a different layer," said Moss.
Moss described how a technical difficulty can completely upend a session, "When you're dealing with really deep, heavy stuff, having to disconnect and then try and get it back going or restart your computer or having to call them and do a session via phone, I think sort of distracts from the moment. I think sometimes it can be maybe a little uncomfortable or a little awkward to be like, 'Hey, I know you were telling me this really deep stuff, but the phone disconnected.'"
Despite the opportunities for things to go wrong, there are a couple of benefits to teletherapy. Lamar University lists several of those benefits including access to care during the pandemic, flexibility during times of illness, access to care for underserved populations in rural areas, flexibility in time and place, and cost savings.
Infographic courtesy of Counseling & Psychological Services, Texas A&M University
"I would just really encourage people to just reach out to find some resources and see what that process could look like. You know, there are things like Talk Space or Better Help or things that you can use to find a therapist," said Moss.