As the novel coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread, much of the world is under some sort of lockdown or restrictions.
In the United States, many governors have issued official guidance, if not outright requirements, telling citizens to stay home as much as possible. These “Safer at Home” orders have shut down non-essential businesses and prohibited gatherings. Unless you have an essential task to carry out, people are expected to remain home in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Essential tasks include things like:
- purchasing groceries and medicine
- visiting a health care provider or bank
- getting fresh air and exercise (at a safe distance of at least 6 feet from other exercisers)
Therapy is considered an essential health care service, so people can leave home in order to see a therapist.Therapy is considered an essential health care service, so people can leave home in order to see a therapist. But many therapists have temporarily transitioned their practices to online counseling to protect themselves and their clients from potential exposure to the virus.
As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, fear and uncertainty also increase, even in people who have never experienced high levels of anxiety, hopelessness, or stress. Those who don’t currently have a therapist may have started wondering how to find one during the pandemic.
While some therapists are not providing in-person therapy at the moment, don’t worry. Telemental health care is a good option, too.
What Is Telemental Health?
Distress related to the current global pandemic has led many people to consider seeking professional support for the first time. If you’ve never gone to therapy, you may not have much knowledge about the process, or any alternatives such as telemental health.
Teletherapy is a modern approach to mental health treatment that takes advantage of technological advances. Therapists use secure, HIPAA-compliant technology to provide therapy through a video or telephone platform. Some form of therapy can also take place through email or text message, but most mental health experts believe this type of therapy to have less benefit.
Telemental health care aims to help therapists reach people who, for any number of reasons, find it hard to access therapy in a traditional way. A few examples include:
- people with chronic health concerns
- people living with disabilities or limited mobility
- people whose mental health concerns affect their ability to leave home
- people living in rural areas
- people with small children and no access to childcare
Since therapists who provide telemental health can work with clients anywhere in the state they’re licensed to practice, this type of online therapy also makes it easier for people needing specialized therapy to find the right provider for their needs.
Telemental health care has seen a steady increase in popularity in recent years. It’s also helped normalize therapy and make it more accessible to people who may have wanted to get help but felt unable to do so.
Now, online counseling is proving even more beneficial, as more and more people turn to the internet to find a therapist to help them cope with the numerous emotional challenges introduced or exacerbated by COVID-19.
Ways Telemental Health Care Could Help
It’s understandable to have some reservations about online therapy, especially if you don’t have much experience with therapy in the first place. Even a video chat with a friend can seem awkward if there are delays in speech or movement or technological difficulties that cause the feed to cut out. If you’ve had experiences like this, you might feel a little uncertain about connecting with—and opening up to—someone you’ve never met or spoken to.
But your therapist is there to help, and they’ll do their best to help you feel as comfortable as possible with the process. If you find telemental health too awkward, you can always continue your work with a therapist who offers in-person therapy.
For the time being, however, distance therapy may be better than no therapy at all.
Telemental health care can help you:
- address existing mental health concerns worsened by current issues. Perhaps you live with mild anxiety that’s intensified as a result of increased stress or panic. Or maybe you’ve worked to overcome cleaning and washing compulsions that are now triggered by an increased need for handwashing and disinfecting common surfaces.
- manage urges to hoard or panic-buy items. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for illness or temporary difficulty accessing supplies. In fact, it’s a good idea to stock up on 2 weeks’ worth of supplies. But if you’re having a hard time to resist urges to purchase excessive items, or feel so worried about running out of resources that you can’t think about much else, a therapist can help you address these concerns.
- cope with financial stress. If you’ve lost your job or fear losing your job in the coming weeks, you might have a lot of concerns about how you’ll pay rent, bills, and purchase essentials. A therapist can’t solve those problems for you, but they can offer support and help you explore solutions.
- address feelings of isolation, loneliness, and depression. If you live alone, or have to maintain physical distance from your closest friends and romantic partner, you might be feeling very alone. Social distancing won’t last forever, but that doesn’t make it easy to bear. Isolation and loneliness can contribute to depression, making you feel even worse. A therapist can help you address these feelings and explore ways to stay connected to loved ones.
- family issues. Suddenly spending a lot more time with family can bring on plenty of stress, even if you’re all fairly close. Not being able to find space or time to yourself can compound stress related to COVID-19 and concerns about family members possibly contracting the virus.
- fears about going out. You’ll probably have to venture out at some point to run essential errands and purchase groceries. It’s perfectly normal, even healthy, to use precautions—keeping 6 feet of distance between yourself and others, washing your hands, sanitizing grocery cart handles, and so on. But if these fears approach a point of paranoia, a therapist can help you work to keep them at a manageable level so you can complete necessary tasks.
- job stress. If you have an essential job as a health care provider, first responder, grocery store worker, or delivery driver, you’re spending more time in public than anyone else. As such, you might be grappling with concerns about facing increased risk for COVID-19 or extra stress due to the current demands of your job. This is no small fear. A therapist can help you come to terms with the risk and offer guidance on acceptance and coping techniques to help manage stress, feelings of burnout, or job-related trauma.
Therapy can always have benefits, and there’s no shame in needing support to get through difficult times. Telemental health care makes it possible to access that support from a compassionate therapist, even when you’re following social distancing guidelines and staying close to home. You can begin your search for a therapist here at GoodTherapy—many of the therapists who list in our directory offer telemental health care services.
- Morganstein, J. (2020, February 19). Coronavirus and mental health: Taking care of ourselves during infectious disease outbreaks. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/apa-blog/2020/02/coronavirus-and-mental-health-taking-care-of-ourselves-during-infectious-disease-outbreaks
- Stress and coping. (2020, April 1). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html
- Zhou, X., Snoswell, C. L., Harding, L. E., Bambling, M., Edirippulige, S., Bai, X., & Smith, A. C. (2020, March 23). The role of telehealth in reducing the mental health burden from COVID-19. Telemedicine and eHealth. Retrieved from https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/tmj.2020.0068
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