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Online therapy to manage psychosocial concerns related to Covid-19

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

What picture pops up in your mind when you hear the term “psychotherapy”? Perhaps it’s that of a client on a couch seated opposite the therapist in a comfortable, well-lit room with a plant in a corner, shelves of books on different type of therapy, and framed certificates hanging on the walls. A typical therapy setting is face-to-face interaction; in-person engagement. However, with the changing dynamics of society and technological advances that allow access to services at our fingertips, we have taken psychotherapy from the couch to the phone.

Online therapy, a part of the wider branch of telepsychology, uses communication tools such as a phone, a desktop computer or a laptop with an internet connection, video conferencing facilities, mobile applications, text messaging, and e-mail. The sheer convenience of using a tool such as a phone that is readily available for most people nowadays to obtain mental health services makes the idea of online therapy more attractive. Websites and mobile apps which have already been set up on this basis include Talkspace, 7 Cups of Tea, and BetterHelp. They offer therapy with licensed professionals through subscription services, unlimited messaging, and scheduled live sessions. With this ease of access, online therapy just seems to be going from strength to strength.

Perhaps the reasons as to why many choose online therapy lie in the ways in which it differs from its traditional method of delivery. The sheer convenience of scheduling an appointment and talking with a therapist from the privacy of one’s own home is a key benefit. This is especially so for people seeking help from professionals for the first time. The comfort of your own home can help ease the nerves of the first session. It also ensures your safety, especially at a time like this when social/physical distancing is critical in fighting the pandemic that is Covid-19. Furthermore, this is of help to those with physical limitations and who are homebound due to the same or other reasons.

The “message anytime” feature on apps can make it easier to connect to a therapist no matter where you are in the world. For areas with limited mental health resources, an online therapy platform serves as a wonderful pool to tap into. Besides, since we’re so accustomed to technology, seeking help through an online platform would not appear as alien as one may think, especially for teenagers. It also serves as an encouragement to essentially “test the waters” and take that initial step to commit to therapy over the long term (if deemed necessary).

Online therapy and its interventions also have a good evidence base albeit being at its infancy stages. Studies have found online treatments to be just as effective as in-person treatments. Hence, more interventions are being developed that can be delivered online, such as internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy. As an intervention, it is proving to be highly efficacious in the treatment of depression, panic disorder, social anxiety, general anxiety disorder, and illness-based emotional distress. Some studies have gone so far as to show the long-term efficacy of internet-based interventions showing sustained symptom reduction, even months after delivery of treatment.

Online therapy is not without its drawbacks however. For example, when compared to in-person therapy, the closeness and intricacies of the therapeutic relationship being affected by the therapist not being able to accurately read facial expressions, vocal signals, or body language are evident in some forms of online therapy. However, these can be minimised to a great degree through the use of video conferencing tools. Technological and networking problems that pop up every now and then could also pose a problem to live sessions. It is clear that, owing to these drawbacks, online therapy may not fully replace in-person therapy but can serve as a powerful adjunct to it.

Some may wonder what concerns are grave enough to warrant online sessions instead of waiting to attend an in-person session once the curfew is lifted. Facing a pandemic such as the Covid-19 outbreak, for which we were not fully prepared, had a lot of psychosocial effects of varying degrees. Having concerns during this time are valid and one could benefit from a discussion with a professional. The first is perhaps the acute awareness of the risk of infection, not only to oneself but also to loved ones. This may bring up a great deal of anxiety and worry, which when not managed appropriately, can lead to constant rumination and lack of interest in any other activity.

The curfew extensions bring about another host of concerns, particularly of hope – or lack thereof – pertaining to when we may achieve a sense of “normalcy” and return to our previous work-life routines again. Requiring money to put food on the table for the family, paying off debt despite the relief periods, and deteriorating savings may account for a few of the financial struggles one may face. The cut-offs from regular salaries, potential job loss, or work-life imbalance caused by working from home may be a few occupation-related concerns. As a student, you may be faced with the uncertainty of when school or university may restart. Social/physical distancing may take a toll on relationships, particularly when you are not able to meet family, friends, partners, colleagues, or peers. Moreover, if you’re someone who is already in therapy, maintaining that therapeutic relationship is crucial to your progress and its continuation is definitely something to be discussed with your therapist.

Mental health is an integral component of the overall health of a person and calls for attention, just as with physical health. While you can always rely on existing coping methods when facing concerns such as those mentioned here due to the pandemic, you will also benefit from learning a few more and gain comfort in the information shared by a professional. While you may consider in-person meetings in the future, you could reap the benefits of online therapy as it is more accessible right now. Prioritising the mental health of yourself and your loved ones is critical now more than ever. It is always advisable to act with a sense of urgency to obtain the help that is required.

If you’re feeling distressed and/or finding it difficult to cope with your emotional experiences, please contact the following services for further assistance.

For online therapy, you may contact:

Psychologist Sanchia Supramaniam: 0779 605 617

Psychologist Kavita Amaratunga Perera: 0770 518 173

Psychologist Carol Gooneratne: 0761 999 908

Psychotherapist Joseph N. Thilakaratne: 0777 382 320

Psychologist Nivendra Uduman: hello.nivendra@gmail.com

Psychologist Rasini Bandara: www.mindheals.org

Sri Lanka Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) Association: 0772 545 870/0777 599 113

 

Other helplines:

Crisis Support Service: 1333

National Mental Health Helpline: 1926

Sri Lanka Sumithrayo: 0112 696 666/0112 692 909/0112 683 555

Shanthi Maargam: 0717 639 898

Sri Lanka National Association of Counsellors: 0710 898 473