Teletherapy and Coping with COVID-19

When word broke of coronavirus, my therapist told me that her practice (East End Therapists) were getting prepared to offer teletherapy options. I was her first client using this technology.

They use an  app called Simple Practice that can be accessed via the internet. My therapist creates a unique login code when she puts me the schedule. I receive a reminder three days out and about 10 minutes before the session. All I need to do is click the link and enter my first name.

I went ahead and downloaded the app onto my phone. My older tablet does not support the app, but I can use it via the internet browser. I can also use it on my laptop.

If you don’t have a lot of experience with video chat, you may have to adjust to the dynamics. I can see my therapist in a big frame with a smaller frame of me overlaying that image. So I see her and I see what she sees of me. This will be important later on.

The main problem is the disconnect with staring at her face and feeling self-conscious about it. In my face-to-face therapy sessions, I look around and fiddle and fuss because she can see me. But I have to remind myself that it is okay to look away from the video if I need to break eye-contact. That’s just a social issue really.

The audio varies. During one session, she could barely hear me. Her practice has decided that if this continues, they will switch to Zoom meetings as a backup. I can hear her just fine.

I have been going upstairs to our second bedroom aka the kitten quarantine room. We have a comfy chair in there and I can plug in my phone if the battery starts to wear out. Laura is in the kitchen below me. She can hear me murmuring, but not make out the words. I can’t hear her at all, but I think she makes a point to be quiet during the hour.

Overall, this is fine. It is not as good as being face to face either in terms of feeling genuinely connected to the experience or because of the benefits of leaving the house to go to my appointments. But it is an adequate substitute given that we have a multi-year relationship. It is better than phone therapy, but even that is better than nothing.

I appreciate not having to risk exposure to the virus to access mental health treatment. Old office building in Pittsburgh don’t have wide hallways or great ventilation. I’m not afraid to go out, or not more afraid than usual, but I am wary of how cavalier people can be.

I appreciate being able to have this space for my own mental health and needs. Some of our conversation has been discussing how this works and the general situation around the COVID-19 pandemic. But now that we know this will last at least two more weeks given the Pennsylvania “stay-at-home” mandate from the Governor, we’ve started talking about resuming my therapy track, specifically EMDR.

She took a training to use EMDR via teletherapy. Basically, I’m going to pull up the relevant YouTube video for eye movements on my tablet and keep the teletherapy session on my phone so she can see me processing. I am willing to give it a try because I feel safe in my home, I know Laura is here to support me, and I am quite aware of the fact that my trauma hasn’t just taken a back seat to the realities of this current emergency.

To be honest, that’s been weighing on my mind – I’m holding up okay, but if we stretch into four or more weeks, my stuff will be there. I don’t want to simply get by or survive this. I want to keep making progress if possible and improve my overall quality of life by resolving some of these traumas. I can absolutely see that the longer I am at home, the harder it might be for me to go back out.

And there’s a real possibility of adding trauma to my existing experiences depending on what happens and what impact the pandemic has on my personal life. What if my friends and family die? Or neighbors? Or even just if someone is sickened, but out of reach? These are not improbable scenarios, even if they aren’t likely.

If you can access teletherapy right now, please consider giving it a try. You deserve all the supports you can access. This is a lot to deal with under the best of circumstances.

 

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