Recent reports suggest that quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a worrying uptick in prescriptions for sleep medicine and antidepressants. Therapists report increased appointments and referrals.
Even our resilient youth are experiencing ill effects on their mental health during this extended separation from friends and school.
More than ever, people need the guidance and insight that come from talking to a trained counselor or therapist.
School counselors report having seen dozens of students a week, and having had hundreds of other impromptu interactions with students each day.
Traditional practices with one or more counselors pooling resources could likewise visit with hundreds of clients a week.
With these reliable sources no longer reachable, many people are discovering the advantages of telemedicine.
Advantages of Tele-therapy
Even before quarantine, counselors and therapists were offering their services online. And clients were comfortably transitioning to the new medium.
The draws are clear:
- Social distancing. Sitting in a small room with another person who is not a family member seems a quaint memory in the era of quarantine. Social distancing is a built-in feature of telemedicine. No chance of transmitting COVID-19 to a person at the other end of your Zoom conference.
- Scheduling flexibility. Counselors and clients are finding it easier than ever to flex their hours and meet at times outside the traditional 9 to 5. Evenings, early mornings, and even weekends have become fair game, while everyone balances work and life in new ways.
- No commute. Grab a drink, run to the restroom, make sure your pen and paper are ready, then sit at the dining room table and sign in. Incalculable time is saved.
- Easier telemed shopping. Clients and counselors alike find it easier to shop for the right therapeutic fit. Every match is not joyful or productive. In fact, there are studies that suggest we are destined to have conflict with roughly 1 in 5 people we meet. Being able to more quickly transition helps everyone settle more quickly into the most productive match possible.
- Greater access to on-demand therapy. It is easier than ever to seek help in a crisis from a therapist or counselor. When that counselor is just a tap away, this means that the barriers to immediate relief or decision-making assistance are removed.
Disadvantages of Tele-Therapy
Of course, telemedicine and teletherapy are not perfect answers to everyone’s needs. The system of face-to-face counseling certainly grew from a time when there was no alternative, but persisted even as options became available.
Tele-therapy has some weaknesses:
- Social distancing. Not being in the same room with a client means that a counselor is left with fewer signals to read. We communicate a great deal with our bodies and how we move in space. That is less evident across town and compressed on a screen.
- Less processing time. The drive home after a therapy session can provide important processing time for everyone involved. Often sessions can touch on deep or even disturbing experiences, and their effects take time to process. Often the commute could, for practitioner and patient, provide a buffer and an important transition back to the real world.
- Challenges in keeping appointments. Working an in-person therapy session into a weekly schedule used to mean that there were important environmental clues and reminders about scheduled and standing appointments. Knowing that you have your session the same day as your staff meeting can be a signal, especially when the therapy has been challenging and your subconscious might act to suppress it. It takes time to adapt to our new schedules.
- Potential for abuse of ease of access. Of course making it easier to get in touch with a therapist also means that it is easier to abuse this relationship. The most effective counselors can come to seem like friends and guides, but in fact they remain trained professionals working for a living. If it is too easy to reach out and seek assistance, it also is too easy to blur the lines and distinctions between work and life outside of work.
Ultimately, the relationship between a client and a counselor is intimate and personal. The better that each person feels about that relationship the more likely it is to be productive and beneficial.
Sure, it is trending (or it is the only option) right now. Does that make it the best option?
Likewise, when the time comes that we can again meet face-to-face with people who are not in our quarantine, we need not rush back to the old norms.
Instead, we should be thankful we have more options than ever to find the right fit pathway to a happier, healthier life.
The practices of a trained and experienced counselor or therapist work in person and over the phone, too. If you are interested in talking, help can be just a phone call away. Contact Sakina or your own therapist to schedule an appointment today.