Online therapy demand continues to grow
When Carrie Farmer opened Creative Insight Counseling three years ago in downtown McMinnville, she never expected the changes that would soon follow.
At that point, she saw all her patients in person. She never dreamed her counseling sessions would soon have to be from a distance. Now, Farmer sees about half of her patients online through videoconferencing.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed how people work, shop and live, and it likely brought home internet use to the forefront of daily routines. While much continues to change, online connectivity has allowed some of the most vulnerable, such as those requiring mental health services, to continue receiving care when they can’t physically visit a counselor. Farmer says the fiber optic connection from Ben Lomand Connect helped with an easy transition to telehealth.
“When COVID-19 hit in March 2020, within a few days I had to move everything online,” she says. “I honestly never wanted to do telehealth because it can be difficult to connect with kids, but it really worked out fantastic. Without it, there’s a lot of patients who wouldn’t have had therapy while so much was shut down.”
UNIQUE APPROACHES TO THERAPY
Farmer worked several years in various mental health facilities before she ventured out about three years ago to start her own practice. Owning the business gives Farmer the flexibility to help care for her family and offers the independence to provide unique counseling services. “I help a lot of people dealing with anxiety and depression, but I specialize in treating trauma and working with children and families,” she says. “It can weigh on you, but at the time when I see them, we’re on a good path to healing.”
Among the special services Farmer focuses on are play therapy, along with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. These last two techniques are available from few providers in the area. “My little boy thinks I go to work and play every day,” Farmer says. “He’s not wrong, but it’s a little more meaningful.
“Play therapy is kind of like a kid language,” she says. “It’s a fun, refresh- ing change to doing mental health work. Children often express themselves through play, and it’s symbolic in a way. They might use dolls or play in the toy kitchen, and you can see their experiences come through in how they act. To be able to work through the trauma in such a unique way is pretty awesome.”
Eye movement therapy is a technique therapists use to create new associations and memories surrounding traumatic events. The method works to eventually eliminate some of the emotional distress associated with a difficult situation. Farmer also serves as the children’s counselor for the Children’s Advocacy Center of the 31st Judicial District.
BENEFITS OF TELEHEALTH
Though offering play therapy services and counseling through videoconferencing was a big adjustment, Farmer quickly learned to make it work. “I met a lot of pets,” she recalls with a laugh. “But it really gave me a much different point of view. Luckily, people in my field were all experiencing the same challenges, so there were several online groups to help each other adjust. For some patients, I’d make Play-Doh kits or bags of craft supplies for them to use on our calls. It made the experience special for them.”
The adjustment to more telehealth services is essential, not only for providers during the pandemic but also to help keep patients in rural areas connected. Telehealth allows rural health care providers to connect with patients through high-speed broadband and video calls. It’s especially effective for patients requiring care for chronic ailments and eliminates travel or potential exposure to sick patients in a doctor’s office.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 30% of appointments took place through telehealth at the height of the pandemic. And a recent survey by Updox, a health care communication company, found that out of 2,000 U.S. adults, nearly half used telehealth services during the pandemic.
While more and more services are opening up to in-person sessions, Farmer still sees about 50% of her patients online. “Serving kids, there’s no way to make therapy work only by phone,” Farmer says. “I couldn’t have kept functioning without broadband. Kids are online a lot anyway, and they adjusted well to the virtual appointments.”
SHINING A LIGHT ON MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
Over the past several years, Farmer also has seen a trend of mental health services becoming more popular and commonplace. As access to online services increases, Farmer says that fewer people, teenagers in particular, are opposed to therapy, and the stigma is fading away. “Not long ago, therapy was for the severely mentally ill or rich,” she says. “Now therapists are more accepted, and most health care plans cover it.”
Regardless of how or why one may seek therapy, Farmer simply encourages people to reach out for help. After stopping for a time during the pandemic, she has returned to offering in-person small group therapy sessions, workshops and support groups. “Some people think they can’t afford it,” she says. “But usually insurance covers it, and lots of counselors also operate on a sliding fee scale. At the very least, we work to point them to someone who can help.”
Content provided with permission from Ben Lomand Connect.