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A Click in the Right Direction: The Rise of Remote Therapy During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Coronavirus Outburst and Mental Health


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During the early months of 2020, the entire world was faced with tragedy: the rise of the Coronavirus, commonly referred to as COVID-19. The virus led to governments mandating lockdown procedures. Soon, staying at home to maintain and reduce the spread of COVID-19 became the norm. Many of us exchanged our mental wellbeing to save lives as giving up face to face, intimate interactions with family and friends became obligatory. Additionally, individuals who contracted the virus were obligated to isolate at home. From being surrounded by friends and family to becoming isolated and lonely, many of us may have experienced a decline in our mental wellbeing. In a review on the psychological effects of quarantine by Brooks et al. (2020), it was noted that individuals who experienced quarantine reported feelings of stress, low mood, emotional exhaustion, and depression.

When the law is to isolate at home and reduce time spent outside, how would vulnerable individuals access psychological help? To ensure the safety of both clients and therapists, an alternative to in-person therapy was needed; it needed to happen remotely.


Teletherapy: What Is This and How Does It Help Me?


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Teletherapy is any therapy which uses technology and occurs remotely (e.g., via video conferencing, instant messaging, phone call, etc.), allowing therapists and clients to connect and communicate. This is an alternative, safer means of delivering therapy sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic, where clients may not be able to physically visit with their therapists. Not only is teletherapy a safer alternative to in-person therapy, for some clients it may be the preferred alternative. For example, those with severe anxiety disorders may prefer remote therapy as there is more flexibility and sessions can be conducted from the comfort of their own homes. Additionally, therapy in this form is more convenient as it eliminates the need for travel, making access easier for clients. Ease of access also increases opportunities for therapy sessions as clients may find it easier to fit sessions into their daily schedule, for example, those who work may be able to schedule in sessions during their lunch breaks if preferred. With ease of access and convenience being key advantages of teletherapy in comparison to in-person therapy, it seems remote therapy is here to stay, regardless of the global changes we face day to day.


Does Teletherapy Work?


Researchers have been adding to the field of research in studying the effectiveness of remote therapy services. A survey by the American Psychological Association (2020) found before COVID-19, around 63.6% of practicing psychologists did not offer virtual sessions, however, mid COVID-19 this depleted to 1.9%. Around 76% of clinicians were solely communicating with their patients remotely. COVID-19 forced professionals to push through modern technology’s critiques of being distant and unreliable by building creative solutions to tackle these problems and provide the best help for clients. Yael et al. (2021) found remote group delivery of Acute Stress Syndrome Stabilisation on members in the general population – during the COVID-19 pandemic – was effective in reducing post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. These reductions were maintained at 3 months follow up. Maier et al. (2021) explored 25 individual experiences from people who participated in couple/familial teletherapy. Participants indicated that the idea of ‘making do’, convenience/flexibility (further supported by Frayn et al. (2021)), and safe spaces are important themes that relate to teletherapy. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, teletherapy was the only safest option, however, these themes add to the success of teletherapy, with surprising benefits for clients.


“It’s splendid once you grow into it.” – Participant’s quote about teletherapy from Maier et al.’s (2021) study.



Remote Therapy from A Client’s Perspective


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From the survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (2020) it was revealed that before the COVID-19 pandemic only a mere 2.1% of people reported using remote therapy 76-100% of the time, however, this percentage of people using remote therapy rose to 84.7% during the pandemic – showcasing the significant impact that the pandemic had on the transition from in-person to remote therapy.

From a recent survey of participants’ attitudes towards remote therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic, Guinart et al. (2020) analysed the responses of 3,052 participants receiving telepsychiatry (telepsychiatry is a subset of telemedicine, where clients have direct access to psychiatrists providing mental health care ranging from psychiatric evaluations to individual/group remote therapy and medication management). 82% of participants using video conferencing and 81% of participants using telephones rated their overall experience of using telepsychiatry as either “excellent” or “good”, with 63% of participants agreeing that their remote sessions were just as helpful as in-person sessions and 64% of participants agreeing they would consider continuing with remote therapy in future. Additionally, near half of the participants frequently reported lack of commute and the flexibility in scheduling/rescheduling appointments as advantages of remote therapy.


How Harmonia Can Accommodate for You


At Harmonia, we value everyone’s individual needs and comforts. We understand this pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works of everyone’s journey and we are here to help guide you through and manage any stressful events and/or emotions you may be experiencing. We also understand that some clients may have reservations about engaging in teletherapy and may initially find it difficult to become accustomed to the remoteness of teletherapy. For example, a common concern is clients may sometimes feel as though they are struggling to connect with their therapist due to lack of physical presence.


At Harmonia, we aim to provide friendly and professional service, if you have any worries/concerns we are always happy to listen and adapt to ensure the most beneficial outcome for you.


If, after reading this article, you think remote therapy may be for you, get in touch with us by sending an email to info@harmoniasolutions.co.uk or head over to our online booking form to book in for an initial consultation.


“In an age where the average consumer manages nearly all aspects of life online, it’s a no-brainer that healthcare should be just as convenient, accessible and safe as online banking” Jonathan Linkous, former CEO of the American Telemedicine Association



References


American Psychological Association. (2020). Psychologists embrace telehealth to prevent the spread of COVID-19. http://www.apaservices.org/practice/legal/technology/psychologists-embrace-telehealth

Brooks, S. K., Webster, R. K., Smith, L. E., Woodland, L., Wessely, S., Greenberg, N., & Rubin, G. J. (2020). The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: rapid review of the evidence. The Lancet.

Frayn, M., Fojtu, C., & Juarascio, A. (2021). COVID-19 and binge eating: Patient perceptions of eating disorder symptoms, tele-therapy, and treatment implications. Current Psychology, 1-10.

Guinart, D., Marcy, P., Hauser, M., Dwyer, M., & Kane, J. M. (2020). Patient attitudes toward telepsychiatry during the COVID-19 pandemic: a nationwide, multisite survey. JMIR mental health, 7(12).

Maier, C. A., Riger, D., & Morgan‐Sowada, H. (2021). “It’s splendid once you grow into it:” Client experiences of relational teletherapy in the era of COVID‐19. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 47(2), 304-319.

Yael, B., Elena, E. M., Cristina, P. M., Amalia, O., Ignacio, J., & Martha, G. (2021). longitudinal multisite randomized controlled trial on the provision of the acute stress syndrome stabilization remote for groups to general population in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychology and Behavioural Science International Journal, 16(2).




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