• Teletherapy: Counseling in the Time of Coronavirus

    The stress of the coronavirus pandemic is testing the limits of individuals and couples while also restricting their ability to visit mental health counselors. Like other health professionals, therapists have turned to technology.

    “I’m using the internet, video conferencing, and telephone to help people who can’t come in person,” said therapist John Gallagher, LMHC, of Couples Therapy Orlando. “With the stay at home order, people may not have access to a therapist, especially if they’re living in a rural area or sequestered somewhere away from home. Others have disabilities, or they’re ill.”

    While conducting sessions remotely is “not my first choice,” Gallagher said, “It’s better than having your course of therapy interrupted or not doing it at all.”

    The pressures brought on by the pandemic are increasing the need for counseling.

    “With people staying at home and spending more time together, that can lead to more conflict. There are also financial issues, pre-existing mental issues, anxiety and depression. So, whether it’s for couples or individuals, therapy is needed even more right now,” Gallagher noted.

    The disruption in daily routines — the things all of us do to reduce and manage our stress — can lead to more “hot spots” for couples as they try to navigate this new landscape. Working from home while helping children with online classes and doing extra laundry and cooking adds even more strain. And that can turn into conflict.

    Whether counseling sessions are in person or remote, the goal of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) is to help people understand that the negative cycle that looks like conflict is often the couple trying to be closer and actually connect with each other. “‘I’m yelling at you because you’re important to me, and I’m trying to get your attention,’” Gallagher explained. “As couples figure out these new ways of being, that conflict cycle is going to come up. That’s something therapy can help with — renegotiating, managing all of these threats together. We’re disconnecting and maybe arguing about what’s happening. How can we come together?”

    To make the most of a remote counseling session:

    • Make a quiet, safe space for your therapy time. If you have children, and it’s safe and appropriate, put them in another room during your session.
    • If you’re a couple, sit next to each other in close proximity and use the same device rather than two separate devices.
    • Focus your attention on the session. Don’t do anything that will distract from the communication, such as eating, looking at your phone or texting.

    Whether or not you’re in therapy, Gallagher suggests ways to help you stay on an even keel emotionally:

    • Do your best to take care of yourself physically — eat well, don’t drink too much and get some kind of exercise in a safe way.
    • Mindfulness practice, such as meditation, can have a positive effect.
    • As a couple, schedule regular time together to talk about how you’re feeling as opposed to what you’ve been doing. Share the emotional experience.
    • Set up time to share positive planned experiences such as playing games, watching videos or doing family activities together.
    • Reach out to people who are part of your family and social network through your phone, texts or social media.
    • If you miss friends or can’t be near your family, take advantage of group chat apps. For example, there’s an extension for the Google Chrome browser called Netflix Party that allows a group of people to watch a movie simultaneously. A chat bar on the side of the screen lets everyone chat with each other as they would if they were watching together in the same room.
    • If you follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines and local and state orders, going for walks together as a couple or as a family can be helpful and healthy.

    Do what you can to keep yourself physically and emotionally well during the crisis, and if you feel that you’re not doing well, whether the issue is rooted in your relationship or your own feelings, reach out for help. Practical solutions are as close as your phone or screen at couplestherapyorlando.com.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.