Coronavirus has turned our world upside down. Many businesses that typically require being present in person are shut down and unable to operate. Everyone is aware that in most places across the country right now, you can't do things like eat out at a restaurant or go to a nonessential doctor's appointment.
You might think that psychotherapy would be the same because it is typically done in an office, but luckily our line of work is well-suited to moving online when needed. Since the coronavirus shutdowns became more widespread in the last few weeks, therapists and mental health practitioners have made a remarkable and rapid industry-wide shift to providing teletherapy services online via videochat rather than meeting in person.
I am the practice manager of a group private practice with offices in several Western cities and for several years, we have offered online therapy for clients who for various reasons could not come to our office in person. The most typical reason is if a client lives far away and cannot find the type of services we offer close to them, but it has also been a great option for clients who are homebound due to anxiety or OCD issues.
Now of course because of the need for social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak, all clients need online therapy. Of all the psychologists I have spoken to in the last few weeks, every single one has made a quick transition to providing therapy for all of their clients online.
This is great news, as it means that if you need help with anxiety, depression, or any mental health issue, you can still get it from pretty much any therapist in spite of the shutdown. Given the obvious and understandable increase in anxiety nationwide, I think it's important that people still be able to have access to things that can help them with anxiety and stress, like therapy.
In the experiences of the therapists at my practice both over the last few years and the last few weeks in particular, we have found that online therapy works well. There are a number of secure, heavily encrypted, HIPAA-compliant platforms intended for healthcare use that therapists use to conduct sessions (we use a popular one called doxy.me). The quality of the video and audio is quite good and problems with the connection seem rare. Because the quality is reliable, sessions proceed as normal. We have found so far that not much, if anything, is lost in the interaction between therapist and client compared to typical in-person sessions. Our clients have been pleased with it as well.
The only part of therapy that is limited with online therapy is certain types of exposures we would normally do in exposure therapy (e.g. practicing approaching strangers for social anxiety or going to crowded places for panic disorder), which obviously cannot be done right now. But outside of that limitation, the vast majority of sessions can be conducted like normal.
If you or a loved one are suffering with mental health struggles, whether they are because of the coronavirus outbreak or not, I encourage you to not let the shutdowns stop you from getting help. ADAA has a great directory of anxiety and OCD specialists around the country if you need help finding one.
About the Author
Dr. Michael Stein is a licensed clinical psychologist who has spent 13 years specializing in the treatment of anxiety disorders and OCD using Exposure Therapy and other evidence-based behavioral interventions. He is the founder and owner of Anxiety Solutions, a group private practice that serves clients with anxiety and OCD both online and at its offices in Denver, CO; Reno, NV; and Boise, ID. He sees clients, teaches, and supervises other therapists from Anxiety Solutions' Denver office. He is passionate about both helping his own clients overcome anxiety and OCD and expanding access to quality care for these problems.