What is telehealth? Is it just on the phone? Can I use video?
Your Mental Health isolation questions answered and more
The New Normal / Life in Iso
We are now a month into the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia and we are getting used to the ‘new normal’ – working from home, video chats with family and friends and daily exercises with a consistency we’ve never had before! I don’t know about you but I am missing my regular outings that I used to take for granted such as getting a cup of coffee with my hubby after finishing at the supermarket.
There are many things that I used to do that are now deemed dangerous – stopping to chat with neighbours while walking the dogs, popping past my son’s house to see how his new job is going, or even making a quick GP appointment to check in.
I am grateful I can still complete my work, support my existing clients and even take on new clients as an online Telehealth Psychologist. And being online isn’t even a new normal for me! I have several years’ experience providing online video & phone counselling to clients. I’d love to share with you some of the pros and cons of online Telehealth and help you decide if it works for you.
Telehealth is any health-related services delivered by electronic & telecommunication means. Initially used to allow long distance or rural patients to have contact with key health services without incurring huge amounts of travel and cost, with the onset of the novel coronavirus Telehealth is quickly becoming one of the most sought after services globally.
My experience in providing telehealth as a Psychologist has been:
- Working as a telephone counsellor at Lifeline supporting people across Australia
- Providing video sessions for ‘Making Relationships Work’ and Natural Fertility Breakthrough with clients from all over Australia, Europe, Asia, the US & Canada.
- Delivering ongoing support, reminders & advice to existing clients in between sessions via my YouTube channel, email & Facebook page
- Currently, I am using Zoom video & phone options for all current and new clients of Kristina Challands Psychologist
Check out this video I put together for some FAQs relating to Telehealth.
But does it really work? Below are some of the pros and cons I have put together based on clients’ experiences so far:
Cons of Telehealth / ‘It’s just not as good as ‘real’ sessions’
The 2 main problems my client’s find with continuing their sessions with me from home are:
1) Lack of ‘acoustic privacy’ (yes it’s a real term!) and;
2) Not feeling the vibe
So let’s discuss these in turn.
1) Acoustic Privacy AKA ‘I don’t want my kids to overhear me talking to my therapist’
Acoustic privacy is actually 2 things: freedom from external noise, e.g. dogs barking and kids playing; and the freedom from being overheard by others and both of these things are important and necessary for successful therapy sessions.
The ways I try to mitigate for this:
I have recently started offering evening/after-hours appointments so this is particularly useful for parents who can finish work, help the kids with homework, get the dinner & dishes done, put the kids to bed and then relax in their living room with a cup of tea and speak with me in the relative quiet of the evening.
Other clients I have who live with other adults or who have light sleepers actually set up Zoom in their car and talk to me in the privacy of their driveway or even drive the car down the road to the park (before the session starts of course!). If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with a large enough outdoor space where you can get acoustic privacy outdoors this can be a great option as well.
2) Not feeling the ‘vibe’
Firstly, because we are not in the room together some people can find it hard to build a connection and that’s OK. It’s really important to have a good connection with your therapist and it is always worth trying a few if you are not vibing with the first one you meet. However I have seen, especially in situations where its telephone only, there can be a certain freedom and unique connection in these sessions– I am just a voice at the other end of the phone and you are able to say anything you want and not worry about seeing or feeling a reaction. It can be an incredibly intimate way to experience counselling.
Secondly, because we are not physically together, this means your therapist needs to get really creative! I typically try use physical exercises with my clients whenever I can – to demonstrate what I am saying or to have them experience a new feeling or sensation. Now I am reworking all those exercises to be able to happen over video or phone. Schoolteachers reading this, I am sure you understand!
Finally, when you connect via Zoom it’s important to switch off all your notifications so you can “be present” and really engage in the session. Having a Facebook message pop up when we’re discussing an incident can be very distracting. Take a minute or two before you log onto our call to ground yourself and be present. Try several deep breaths, relax your shoulders, notice if you’re holding stress somewhere in your body and try to relax.
So those are the main 2 problems my clients face with telehealth and how we overcome them. Want to hear about the loads of benefits my clients have experienced during telehealth sessions with me? Read on…
Benefits of Telehealth
One thing I am hearing more and more from clients is ‘wow this works much better than I expected!’ and I am also a little surprised by just how well the new normal of telehealth sessions is working. How? Why?
Well, let’s start with the easiest & most obvious – very low travel time. This is more important than it sounds. Remember how frenetic our lives were just a few weeks ago? It was sometimes too hard to find the time to not only attend your therapy session but to drive there and back to boot! Now commute time can be as long as it takes for you to get settled in your favourite chair or walk to the back garden.
Similarly, there is something to be said for being in the comfort of your own home – sitting in your regular spot on the couch, in your comfy clothes, with your favourite mug and maybe even with your cat on your lap. This can be a really positive experience especially for new clients or for couples to be in their own home with the life they have built together around them.
From my perspective as a therapist, it’s been a privilege to be ‘invited’ into people’s homes – I have had client’s in the middle of the sessions say ‘hang on, I can actually show you’ and take the video to show me the place they go when things get tough, or a piece of art they have created, or have introduced me to the family pets. It’s been really lovely to be able to share things in a more tangible way with my clients.
I hope some of these points I have shared have helped anyone reading this to understand more about telehealth and some of the benefits to accessing counselling services in this way. For couples looking to work on their relationship together I think there can be even more benefits but that’s for another blog – stay tuned.
To finish up, I have put some best practice suggestions below to help you get set up for your next telehealth session successfully.
Best practice tips
- Test your acoustic privacy settings – find a nice quiet spot
- Have your favourite cuppa ready
- Check your tech – log in to Zoom a few minutes early and check the mic and speakers/headphones are working well & make sure you disable your notifications
- Get comfortable – pyjamas are acceptable attire
- Bring a notepad & pen or tablet to make notes
- Make sure you have enough time allocated
- Let me know if you are not feeling the vibe and we can talk about it or I can suggest another psychologist you might like to try
6) Are you covered?
Check our Covid-19 update page here for up-to-date info on Medicare allowances for accessing telehealth during Covid-19.