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  • Writer's pictureDr. Lisa Oefinger

Mental Health Distancing? No, don't do that.

Social distancing, the hottest trend of 2020, is changing the way we interact with each other. Almost overnight, our everyday transactions acquired a virtual-reality quality. The good news is that we live in a time and place where we have some tools to accommodate this shift. The bad news (or at least some of the bad news) is that this “new normal” is not inclusive, and like other inequitable structures, primarily benefits those with the most privilege. In general, higher-paying, white-collar jobs readily transition to online life, while many hourly employees in the service industry (and the like) face grave employment uncertainty… or the grim choice between a paycheck and taking a health risk. And of course, our medical professionals, first responders, and others on the frontline also cannot Zoom or Microsoft Team into work.

Psychologists want to be available for clients during this time and are working to fit into this new space. In truth, while some providers and agencies have been offering telehealth services (therapy by phone or video chat) for some time, this forum is quite new to many therapists. With telehealth comes additional considerations like ensuring a confidential (HIPAA-compliant) platform for video chat and carefully applying state licensing regulations (e.g., if I’m licensed in California, what do I do if my client calls me from another state?). Also, change can be scary, and telehealth is just different than how most of us were trained.

Speaking of different, everything today is different than it was two weeks ago. Many of my colleagues who had never considered providing telehealth services are now working to understand and apply best practices of video and phone sessions. Telehealth companies are reaching out to providers with promotions and promises of support to ease this shift - the iron is surely hot for telehealth platforms. In my own practice, I embarked on my first video therapy and assessment sessions last week (with adults and children) and was surprised by the ease of this transition. Maybe I could have started this practice sooner?

Bottom line, if you are contemplating therapy or feel like you need more support during this difficult time, coronavirus is not a reason to wait or put it off. If you feel like your child or your family needs more support, reach out. If anything, this is a time to run towards (not distance from) mental health support. Many therapists are already providing telehealth services and the rest of us are figuring it out quickly. And, if you find yourself in a place of financial uncertainty (like so many), ask about sliding scale and insurance options. If a therapist is unable to accommodate your financial request, then ask for referrals of other providers and/or low fee clinics in your area. You can start this search on

Possibly, one positive outcome of this stressful time is that telehealth therapy will become more commonplace. Maybe psychologists will be more confident integrating telehealth services into their regular practice? Maybe this allows individuals with transportation obstacles to more easily access services? Maybe psychologists have fewer overhead costs (e.g., rent, utilities) and take on more sliding scale clients? And hopefully these shifts begin to chip away at some other big inequities our society.

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DISCLAIMER: This blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not imply nor establish any type of therapeutic relationship. It should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. If you think you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local mental health crisis hotline.

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