July 16, 2020
Individualized, one-to-one therapy is a critical part of mental health recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic changed fundamentally the way we interact with our clients – particularly in therapeutic relationships. Adapting to virtual visits brings a new set of challenges – and a new set of opportunities, which we at People Incorporated are fully embracing.
In 2019, People Incorporated launched a new platform for working collaboratively in a virtual environment. This tool’s virtual meeting platform quickly became the cornerstone of our ability to provide care during Minnesota’s stay-at-home order. This new virtual environment presented both new opportunities and challenges for therapists and clients alike.
“Early on, I did a lot of coaching with people on where they should be doing therapy sessions. I had many discussions on finding a private space to talk and did a lot of coaching on where to put the phone so I can actually see them,” said Isaac Boike, a therapist at People Incorporated’s Family Life Mental Health Clinic in Coon Rapids. “One of the biggest factors in doing online therapy is just figuring out non-verbal cues. It’s definitely harder to read body language and interpret it over the screen. It’s more effort overall.”
For children, the move to virtual therapy was even more profound. “With kids especially – engagement is so different. Normally I’d be playing a game with them in the office while we talk. Now, I’m using computer games online, playing with chat backgrounds – whatever helps them let their guard down. This is hard for them. Before my office was the safe space, but now that they’re home, they have to make their safe space,” said Boike.
The use of virtual platforms has also brought out new creativity and even some fun in the adaptation of virtual therapy for children. Therapists have utilized online gaming, white board drawing exercises, and art therapy to help youth and teens express emotions and unpack the challenges they’ve faced during the pandemic.
“One of our therapists was using puppets to talk to students when they were struggling to be on video with her. For other students, we’ve been able to incorporate the chat feature for things they find difficult to express verbally in addition to the video chats we’re doing. We’ve learned to screen share to include more video clips or allowed the students to share with us their favorite inspirational music videos or movie characters. We’ve used a lot of scavenger hunts to move kids around and find calming items and spaces within their homes. We’ve been able to incorporate client pets into their therapy,” said Jessica Mathwig-Olson, Director of Operations and lead for our School-Linked care programming.
For some individuals, the move to virtual therapy provided a new opportunity to find support.
“We are at our most accessible we’ve ever been. It’s one [aspect of COVID-19] that I think is so cool. I am working with at least five clients who had some barriers to being in the office – severe panic disorders for being out, children without childcare – now I can see them. I can see them on a regular basis,” said Boike. As People Incorporated moves forward, these tools and practices will likely remain available, removing more barriers to care, and getting more people the help they need to move towards mental health recovery.
Many of our clients also continue to receive care subsidized by People Incorporated’s generous donors. Last year, People Incorporated provided more than $800,000 in charitable care, ensuring cost is never a barrier to recovery. Your financial support makes this possible.