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Online Counseling During COVID-19: What to Expect & How to Make the Most of It

May 21, 2020telehealth counseling

It’s no secret – the uncertainty and isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the mental and emotional well-being of many. More than ever, people have sought online counseling, and patients and providers are learning to adjust to telehealth.

While receiving care over the phone is surely a learning curve, it’s important to remember that telehealth is an incredibly beneficial tool that can help you cope with new anxieties and progress with treatment. It’s also the safest option while stay-at-home orders are still in place.

At Jefferson Health in New Jersey, behavioral health consultants Manoucheka Emmanuel, LCSW; Christopher Huff, LCSW; Leslie Breslau, LCSW; and Leah Grab, LMFT, have helped patients transition to telehealth using JeffConnect® and MyChart.

If you’ve never tried counseling before:

If you’re seeking counseling for the first time, try not to hesitate or doubt yourself. “You don’t have to be experiencing severe anxiety or depression to seek help,” explains Breslau. “Symptoms can be mild. If it has impacted the way you function, we’re here to help you.”

It’s a common misconception that receiving counseling online won’t be as helpful as seeing someone in-person, says Grab. “Going into it with a negative attitude can affect your experience. You CAN maintain and build a therapeutic bond through telehealth and express your concerns.”

How telehealth counseling works:

Held over a phone, tablet, or computer, telehealth appointments are still the same length of time, and they still maintain the same level of confidentiality, explains Emmanuel. “With JeffConnect, we can seamlessly schedule appointments. Patients new to the platform, referred by their primary care doctors, are provided with instructions on how to set up their account and get on a call.”

The unique benefits of telehealth:

The greatest convenience of telehealth is not having to travel or sit in a waiting room. However, many people also enjoy being able to meet from the comfort of their own home. For people with social anxiety or anxiety specific to going out during this pandemic, it has also been incredibly helpful.

Tips to help you adjust:

Choose a quiet, private setting for your call.  

It’s important to feel comfortable enough to open up. The most preferable setting is a quiet room, separate from others, and free of distraction, says Huff. “If you live alone, you may have more options as to where you can sit. For others, try to be flexible. Some people might feel the most focused out in their car, away from their family, and that’s okay!”

Take time to transition into the right mindset.

With lack of travel, unfortunately, comes lack of time to reflect on what you want to speak about. Without this time to transition, you may end up switching to an appointment directly from watching TV or playing a game, causing you to forget what’s on your mind.

“Be aware of this and set aside some time to reset your mind and center yourself. This can help you open up and retain more during the call,” says Huff.

Also, make sure you fully transition, and that the TV isn’t still on or you’re trying to multitask, says Grab. “We want to have the clearest communication possible, so you to get the most out of the session.”

Prepare questions in advance to help focus on your goals.

During this time of reflection – or even throughout the week – jot down your concerns, suggests Emmanuel. Some people also find it helpful to keep pen and paper with them to take notes during their call.

Breslau agreed, saying, “Time flies! Before you know it, the session is over, but you didn’t get to address some of your biggest concerns. It helps to write things down. We want to help you with as much as we possibly can.”

Technological difficulties are rare – but do what you can to prepare.

The vast majority of calls are error-free, and when complications do occur, they’re often easy to work around, says Breslau. Even if your video call is disrupted, and you’re unable to reconnect, the appointment can be transferred to a normal phone call.

“It’s highly encouraged to log in to your telehealth platform five to 10 minutes in advance, so that you can check the strength of your signal, as well as your audio and visual capabilities,” explains Emmanuel.

Work towards being more open – even more so than before.

Mental and behavioral health professionals are trained to observe physical cues to gauge how a person is feeling, says Huff. Over the phone, even with video, it can be harder to pick up on the same subtleties. Because of this, we remind patients to try and be as open and honest as possible, so we can treat them in the most effective way, says Breslau.

At the end of the day, even if it takes longer for some people to adopt therapeutic techniques over telehealth, it’s all about connecting with your provider and taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally during this pandemic, says Huff. “Remember, this is only temporary, and we’re in this together.”

For more information on Primary & Specialty Care Services at Jefferson Health New Jersey, including Behavioral Health, click HERE

You can use JeffConnect® for a telehealth consult with a Jefferson doctor anytime, anywhere. For more information on the coronavirus (COVID-19), click HERE.