In today’s shelter-in-place world, it’s not just people with compromised immune systems who are at risk. The anxiety about contracting the coronavirus, paired with the inability to relieve stress by going to most places and events that are now unavailable, is increasing the severity of psychological or emotional conditions, such as depression, anxiety, relationship issues, and other personal challenges for many.
Consequently, even in this short time, there’s more risk of substance abuse, suicide, domestic violence, and moving toward divorce. Others, who’ve felt fine before the coronavirus hijacked their ability to interact with others in ordinary ways, feel frightened or lonely.
These situations point to a crying need for therapy, yet the shelter-in-place order means that treatment can’t happen in-person right now. But help is still possible; it’s merely occurring in different forms. Many clients are transitioning smoothly from in-person meetings to phone, or video sessions via Skype, Zoom, or a different option. Others are less comfortable about either making the switch or becoming a new therapy client.
Telephone and Online Sessions Aren’t New Methods
Many therapists, including myself, have been providing phone and online therapy for some time, usually for special situations. A few examples: Someone moves too far away to continue office visits but wants to continue their treatment via Skype. A parent and adult child want to heal an estranged relationship, but one of them lives too far away for office visits. A couple wants to see a marriage therapist, but they live hundreds of miles away. Instead of in-person therapy, it happens on Skype.
As a former crisis line volunteer, I’m comfortable with telephone therapy; I’m sensitive to nuances of people’s voice tone, inflections, and frame of mind. Usually, adding the visual part via Skype, Zoom, or another online method is better, because body language and facial expressions convey so much more of our communication, and they’re missing in telephone therapy. Some clients prefer phone therapy, which works fine in many situations.
In video sessions, I can see smiles, misty eyes, and raised eyebrows. But some things are still missing. For example, a wife asked her husband during a recent Skype session with me why he was wringing his hands, which didn’t show on the screen. If she hadn’t mentioned this, I wouldn’t have known to ask him what was on his mind, because his face showed no angst.
While physical distancing is needed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, we do the best with what we have. Remote therapy is an effective way to gain help in living and loving more fully. Although the energy, chemistry, general aura present in office visits is lacking, there’s no reason to wait for therapy until it can happen in-person again.
Meanwhile, some adjusting is occurring for all involved. Clients who tend to view their therapists as all-knowing may be surprised to find that their technology skills surpass those of the professional’s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Realizing that their therapist, like them, is an imperfect human, can strengthen their bond, the “therapeutic alliance” which supports growth and change.