When Illinois’ Stay-at-Home Order went into effect, I knew we needed to expand our method of delivery for social and behavioral-mental health services. I immediately received calls from frantic parents and teens sharing feelings of dread and worry due to the news of COVID-19. A six-year-old client asked me if s/he would be able to contact me via “Duo or Zoom..or Facebook..or anything..just anything,” while quarantine was in effect. It was difficult explaining to a six-year-old the HIPPA guidelines and the ethics surrounding electronic communication. Due to social distance limitations, I began to question how as their community-based clinician would I be able to continue supporting my clients and providing the much-needed consistency they were seeking. I immediately began earning Telehealth certifications in order to provide HIPPA compliant, video-enabled mental health services that my clients desired.
Initially, I maintained contact with clients via telephone calls and text messages, but my younger clients seemed to lose interest. A 10-year-old client, working on self-expression, told me during a telephone session, “I [client] wish you [clinician] could just see me,” as they struggled to express his/her feelings. Fortunately, NEDFYS promptly established a HIPPA-compliant platform that allowed us to continue engaging clients via remote platforms.
As soon as NEDFYS transitioned to Telehealth, the creativity of clinical work once again came to life. For instance, I was able to engage a six-year-old in a guided mindfulness session in which the client learned from observing me. I was also able to continue providing case management support to a fifty-six-year-old client, who via the use of Telehealth had the opportunity to learn how to use electronic devices. My adolescent clients continued to benefit from worksheets and psycho-educational videos via screen sharing, with some reacting with 'this is cooler,' than face-to-face sessions.
While Telehealth offers many advantages, there are some limitations to remote therapy. For example, having a strong rapport with clients and the ability to re-assess clinical risks and needs is critical to determine if in-person sessions are needed. Telehealth has enabled clinicians to continue rendering social and behavioral-mental health support services, particularly during these unprecedented times. Even as we begin transitioning back to “normal” in-person counseling sessions, Telehealth services will continue to be beneficial for clients that prefer participating in counseling sessions from the safety of their home is more ideal for their mental health at times, or who may have transportation or disability-related limitations that may limit in-office presence. Overall, I believe that Telehealth has been a rewarding experience for both myself as a clinician, as well as my clients.