A Clinician’s Perspective
We recently wrote a post entitled Adapting to our New Normal – Telehealth in the Age of Covid 19. In it we addressed the many benefits of telehealth. While we might all agree that telehealth allows us to stay connected to our clients and provide essential care. It is not without shortcomings. As experts predicted, many of us have seen the negative impact of the virus/quarantine on our clients’ mental health.
While it is important to relish the lighter moments, the challenge with teletherapy is very real for a number of clinicians.
In a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults in the US reported increased stress and worry about the virus has adversely affected their mental health (Panchal et al., 2020). As pointed out in our blog, Understanding our Emotional Response to COVID-19 – The Grief Model, we, as a community, are simultaneously experiencing the grief and loss brought about by the virus. And this includes clinicians themselves.
Clinicians might find our own anxieties or other emotions triggered more frequently during sessions as a result.
To offer a moment of levity, while the difficulties encountered by clinicians conducting distance therapy are real, we must also see some of the humor in our collective experiences. The anecdotes are seemingly endless. Some therapist have mentioned experiencing motion sickness when a child client decides to take them on a tour of their home while wearing roller skates. Others have noted they want to change the décor of their offices to resemble the interior of a car. As it seems to illicit deeper insights from clients. And of course, there is the lovely benefit of the telehealth dress code, business up front (dress shirt & scarf) and party in the back (PJs or any other elastic waisted pant)!
Clinicians might find our own anxieties or other emotions triggered more frequently during sessions.
While it is important to relish the lighter moments, the challenge with teletherapy is very real for a number of clinicians. For starters, the technology available for remote therapy is not always reliable. For example, I was working with a client who was processing a difficult past experience and my screen froze, interrupting the truly intimate moment she was sharing. It was impossible to recreate the flow of the session after.
These difficulties can be draining and disheartening.
What might be even more distressing for clinicians conducting teletherapy is the possibility of a client psychiatric crisis in which the client may be a danger to his/her self or others. While there are safety protocols that must be put in place when conducting telehealth, we might still experience increased anxiety when working remotely with a client who is experiencing severe mental health issues. This can be triggering for clinicians. We are also likely experiencing increased counter-transference, as we are living through the same public health crisis as our clients.
For interest in joining a telehealth clinician support group at SPBH, please contact me.
Clinicians might find our own anxieties or other emotions triggered more frequently during sessions as a result. Furthermore, it can be very difficult to observe non-verbal communication via teleconference. We know that much of human communication and connection relies upon non-verbal ques. Many clinicians report that they feel they are working harder in their virtual sessions. They are experiencing increased levels of fatigue and exhaustion. Some report difficulty engaging clients, particularly new or younger clients.
Clinician’s recognize the essential role that therapeutic rapport plays in successful therapeutic outcomes, and building that rapport virtually can be incredibly challenging.
There is an increase in the urgency and intensity of our clients’ needs. The imposed adaptation to a new form of therapy delivery (teletherapy) and the stresses clinicians are experiencing as humans living through a pandemic can feel overwhelming. We are professionals and will continue to be present for our clients and hold that healing space for them. But, we might want to consider seeking out additional support for ourselves during this time. This will help us navigate the challenges of teletherapy, but also to practice self-car. We, too, our managing an incredibly stressful time in our lives.
If you have interest in joining a telehealth clinician support group at SPBH, please contact Katya.
Written by Katya Musacchio, MS, LPCA
Panchal, Nirmita, Kamal, Rabah, Orgera, Kendal, Fox, Cynthia, Garfield, Rachel, Hamel, Liz, Munana, Cailey, Chidambaram, Priya. (2020). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use – Issue Brief – 9440. Kaiser Family Foundation. Web. April 2020.