Adjusting to Mental Health Treatment Via Telehealth During the COVID-19 Pandemic
After years of in-person counseling, adapting to telehealth and creating a safe space can prove challenging.
I’ve been seeing my counselor for three years. Every week.
I have worked very hard with her to build a safe place in her office. A place outside of my everyday life that I can go to get away; a place dedicated to just me and the healing that I need to do for that one appointment slot each week.
I treasure that space. I look forward to it every week. In fact, it is the one thing in all the healing techniques and resources there are, that I have stuck to. It is something that I have never had, not as a child, or as a young adult living in the aftermath of my abuse. That space, for me, is priceless.
When the pandemic hit my area, it was swift and quick, shutting things down with little notice other than the expectation from watching the news.
During my last in-person visit we discussed the “possibility” of going virtual, but it didn’t feel real. The store I manage hadn’t even closed yet, so I hadn’t quite accepted that my reality was going to change swiftly. My store, a large Optical Retailer closed two days later; the following week I heard from my counselor’s office that we would be exploring virtual therapy.
I felt pretty confident in my online and teleconferencing skills; as a Gen Xer, I may have grown up without a cell phone, the world wide web, and call-waiting – it all showed up when I was still young and trendy enough to keep up.
I very easily accepted the switch to telehealth, outwardly. I knew how to sign in, I had a room downstairs I could use, and I’ve been using Skype long before FaceTime and FB messenger became a thing.
The First Appointment
It was three days after my originally scheduled appt time due to everything involved with the switch over. My therapist’s office had to update and implement new policy regarding healthcare reclassification and coverage for telehealth, HIPAA compliant online privacy, new updated questions before each meeting to establish consent of treatment, etc. In other words – things were different.
When we did finally meet – wow, it was weird.
I was concerned that the sound was too loud and perhaps my husband or child could hear. What if they heard what I was saying? Was my little one going to walk in and interrupt me?
All-in-all, I didn’t feel very safe. It was unfamiliar, uncomfortable: it just wasn’t the same. Then, as we hung up, it hit me that I had no idea when I would see her again in real life.
I spent the next week really feeling the weight of the loss. Everything about this pandemic has felt like one loss after another, a free-fall with no clear sign of an end.
I’ve lost my job (temporarily, yet indefinitely) which has thrown my family’s financial security out of balance.
I’ve lost the time I had each day with the girls I work with. We are a small staff, we are close, and we spend a lot of time together. I miss them very much.
I miss visiting my son. He lives two hours away, yet we visit often. He has never felt so far out of reach before.
I’ve lost some control over things I thought were secure, and there is nothing I can do about that other than accept what I can control.
I’ve lost time with friends and family.
And now, I am faced with the loss of my safe space, my one-on-one time with my counselor.
The Next Two Appointments
For the next two weeks, I sat in the corner of the back room in my basement with my tablet sitting on a filing cabinet, talking with my counselor over teleconference.
With each passing week, I felt a little bit better, more comfortable – I was starting to get used to it. But my overall depression in general was getting the better of me. Something I had started to address with my counselor. The losses were all starting to weigh heavy.
One thing I did note: seeing the same background on her screen each week helped me, it gave the sense of the same space each week. And as small as it may seem, I am craving normalcy, so consistency helps.
We started focusing my therapy on how I can help myself at home in the immediate.
How I took Control
My husband and I have two rooms in our basement. For many years, one belonged to my now adult son, the other a kind of catch all. Occasionally it would be cleaned and functioning, other times it has been a storage room.
With all this time on our hands now as we self-isolate as a family to protect ourselves and our community and give our healthcare workers a fighting chance, we’ve been tackling projects that have gone ignored for years.
One of those projects was packing up my son’s belonging left behind after his move over a year ago and transforming his old room into my office/crafting room.
I finished that project early that week with intention and I’ve been able to get back to my writing and try to clear my head. I have a space now to just get away. And it is a safe space for just me. It feels refreshing.
As the Weeks Pass
I have been meeting with my counselor for a few weeks now via telehealth, and it has gotten easier with each passing week.
I am feeling much more at ease with telehealth, my trust in the process (and platform) is growing and my comfort level is increasing. Talking about it with my counselor has helped.
Being in my own space has also helped. Since I cannot be in the space I created in her office, I took the responsibility of creating a new safe space. I am surrounded by my own things during our sessions now. My photos, my personal belongings, I can even have my own music playing (which is a bonus of telehealth I think) because music plays such a big role for me in mood management.
I felt freer to cry, I discussed more deep emotions and got into the weeds a little bit, something I have avoided the last couple weeks as I have felt out this new terrain for safety.
There is loss in this transition, responding to that loss is normal and expected. Feeling that loss makes sense. I suggest talking to your therapist about it if you have already transitioned to virtual sessions.
I also suggest that those of you contemplating telehealth give it a go, especially if you have a therapist you are already conformable with and trust. We deserve to heal, and we have been training for these moments where life throws us curve-balls and we must manage how we respond and adapt.
If you are new to therapy and looking into telehealth, I still recommend it.
Similar to me, with intention and commitment you will create a safe space for healing too.