For mental health professionals, like myself, the disruption came in the early days of the pandemic, when it became clear that in-person, office visits for therapy and treatment could not happen in the foreseeable future. I (like many of my colleagues) felt immense concern for the individuals, couples, and families who would need our support – now more than ever.
The effectiveness of treatment and therapy overwhelmingly lies in the personal connections we establish with our clients. We know that a strong and trusting therapist/client relationship is key to treatment outcomes. So, the “new normal” presents us, in the mental health field, with great challenges. At the same time, it forces us to innovate for the positive. We’ve been trying new things, engaging in new ways, inventing and reconfiguring to adapt and provide the services and personal connection our clients require.
Mental healthcare providers have overwhelmingly made the switch to telehealth. Although this modality has been growing in popularity in recent years because of convenience and accessibility, COVID-19 has pushed those of us who were reluctant to adopt these tools, to make the switch.
I have been pleasantly surprised by the positive results. In 45 years of practice, I never used telehealth. Frankly, I questioned whether I would be able to transfer therapeutic techniques. Would this method of therapy be too impersonal to get results? Would it work?
It has. And, it is.
Over the last months, I have provided individual, child, adolescent, adult, couple and family therapy virtually through a teleconferencing platform. My clients – many who are already very comfortable with using technology and screens – are engaging with me much in the same way they always have.
Recently, a family located halfway across the country from Evergreen Psychotherapy Center was able to participate in our Intensive Outpatient Program, without ever leaving home. The parents are raising three adopted children, who have a history of abuse, neglect and early developmental trauma and struggle with severe attachment issues. It was extremely encouraging to see that with this family we were able to seamlessly transfer the 30 hours of our traditional IOP to the virtual format. Our work included diagnostics and assessments, individual and group therapy, training on how to be therapeutic parents for the adults (based on the skills covered in my book Healing Parents.), the teaching of effective communication, problem-solving, and conflict management skills for the entire family, and successful completion of specific therapeutic goals we set for this family.
Most importantly, the clients and I were able to develop a positive therapeutic relationship. Throughout our sessions, family members felt safe and we were able to build trust and empathy and share encouragement and honest feedback. Despite the technology and screens, we established close connections and positive rapport. The experience has once again shown me, just how powerful human relationships are in fostering help and healing — even when technology is involved.