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Opinion: Coronavirus transforming mental health therapy sessions

The coronavirus is transforming mental health treatment for the better for clients like me.

We have been generously informed about the distance learning that is done for students during the shelter in place prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, but there hasn’t been much coverage concerning how the same idea is being applied to psychotherapy.

Jack Bragen 

When the shelter in place came into effect, my attendance at therapy meetings went from barely passable to near 100%. And this allowed my counselors to assess that my issue with showing up for therapy is purely transportation-related and is not for some reason related to my condition, or even some form of avoidance. During the past three weeks, I have had my sessions with counselors facilitated through Zoom, which is a newer software that can be used in the same way as Skype or Facetime.

The advantages to having both sound and picture are substantial. With only sound, as in a phone session, you do not get as much benefit from the therapy because you cannot see the face of the counselor you are seeing, nor can they see yours.

Seeing a person’s face is very important to human contact because of how evolution designed the human organism. Speech is just one of many forms by which people communicate. People use body language, facial expressions, touch and possibly even the sense of smell to communicate. There is no substitute for seeing a person’s face. This may seem obvious, but it may be overlooked.

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In psychotherapy, it has long been recognized that in-person meetings are better than by distance. Short of being in person, therapy is better with pictures than it is with only voice.

Additionally, the audio processing of cellular phones makes it harder to hear subtle inflections in voice. And the audio transmitted by Zoom or other similar software tends to be of better quality than through cellular connections. Many mental health consumers can’t afford to have both cellular and a landline.

Most software for transmitting both picture and sound is easy to work with and does not necessitate that you be a computer genius. Zoom is compatible with both Mac and Windows.

For purposes of Medicare billing, a Zoom connection on distance sessions is mandatory for counselors to be reimbursed for their work. At a guess, those who administer Medicare are attempting to make sure that the Medicare dollars are used with best results.

For several years now, remote counseling sessions have been considered legitimate. Before coronavirus, many psychiatric and psychology consumers have had legitimate need for distance sessions in which they do not need to leave their homes. There are a number of reasons for this. Some do not have adequate transportation to the meeting. Others may have phobias that hinder traveling to the sessions. And some may have additional medical conditions that cause them to need to stay home.

In some instances, therapy consumers are more at ease when meeting their counselors from home, and this, in many ways, can make the therapy more therapeutic than when they go across town and meet the therapist at an office. When in the comfort of home, it could be easier for the individual to express their feelings, because they are in more comfortable surroundings.

Jack Bragen is author of “Instructions for Dealing with Schizophrenia: A Self-Help Manual,” and lives in Martinez.

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