Editor’s Note: During the coronavirus quarantine, Chapman’s Frances Smith Center for Individual and Family Therapy is offering free telehealth counseling. Following is a reflection on that experience by Maddison Herrick (’20 M.A.), who graduated from the program this spring.
It was 10 minutes before my first telehealth counseling session. I thought through my checklist. Do I have everything I need to document the consult? Is my Wi-Fi connection OK? What if they don’t answer? And most important of all — How can I help my client? Will it be the same?
In the clinic at our Palm Street location in Crean Hall — temporarily empty during quarantine — people come in with many presenting problems and an array of difficulties. Now, on top of the original struggles such as depression, anxiety, trauma and grief, there’s a new set of difficulties. Job loss. Fear of the unknown. Loved ones’ illnesses. Homeschooling challenges. Increased tension with partners. Less access to support systems or resources. The transition to working on these issues in a telehealth setting is overwhelming for all, including myself.
So how could I still reach those through a screen or a phone like I would be able to face to face? How could I shed light for these clients during a time with so many unknown answers?
Providing Personalized Care
I met with my first telehealth client by telephone and my opening question was the one many of us know well in these days of remote work and teleconferencing. “Hello? Can you hear me?” I spent that first session doing what my client needed at that time, talking about all of this unknown new territory. Afterward, I reflected on our talk and I was amazed at how powerful a session we could have and still feel so connected through the phone. During that time, I was reminded just how resilient we are as human beings.
MFT Students Step Into Telehealth
I look back at the telehealth sessions I have had with my clients so far and am surprised with how well we are still able to work through the deeper emotions and the strong silences. I can’t help but wonder if people being comfortable and vulnerable in their home allows for us to continue this work, and in some cases, dive deeper than before.
Working with the community during this time, I have had clients discuss concerns about making their rent, trouble with staying motivated, struggles with depression and caring for a sick loved one. However, I have also heard how grateful they are to access support through therapy during this unprecedented time. I believe the Frances Smith Center and telehealth have allowed us to continue to reach those in the community who may be struggling now more than they were before.
Relevant Clinical Experience
Overall, this experience of gaining clinical training hours through telehealth has been eye-opening in many ways. Not only has this opportunity allowed for continued learning and growth in new areas such as techniques or ways to feel connected to your clients, but it has shown that a community can rise up to any challenge. I believe that this experience has demonstrated the power of telehealth, and I am sure this is just the beginning of my experience utilizing it. I am excited to see a future with easier access to mental health and believe that telehealth will continue to get bigger as we know it.
Because now more than ever, we need to be ready to answer when someone on either end of the line asks, “Can you hear me?”
Read more about how Chapman is responding to the coronavirus crisis in the community.