Behavioral health conference to discuss teletherapy

The virtual conference will present information on the growing need for mental health care being met online.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Clinicians have been using teletherapy for mental health care for many years to reach patients in small hospitals or remote clinics, but the pandemic has necessitated its widespread use.

“Most of the therapists I know closed their offices and went into the virtual realm. I did,” said Dr. Tanisha Guy, Online Full Time Faculty in Grand Canyon University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “And now what I’m hearing from clients is they don’t want to go back to the office. It’s just so much more convenient.”

Guy’s presentation, “The Benefits of Teletherapy in Times of Community Crisis,” is part of CHSS’ Virtual Behavioral Health and Social Services Conference on Wednesday.

It’s a vital topic today for both clinicians and the general public.

More than half of Americans say their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, according to a July Kaiser Family Foundation survey, significantly higher than the 32% reported in March.

Dr. Tanisha Guy

Anxiety and depression has increased, Guy said, and so has the demand for therapy.

“They can no longer deal with it by going to the gym or they had social outlets. So they sought out the help of clinicians,” she said.

“And for the first time, as long as I’ve been in my 20 years of practice, clinicians are going through the same crisis as their clients. So not only are they are helping clients, but they are also dealing with COVID as well -- the loss of a loved one, or someone getting sick or losing a job. Clinicians are dealing with the same things and are turning to their counselors to get through these times.”

The high demand for help is at a time when talking face to face indoors is a risk, so clinicians in large numbers have been overcoming the barriers of practicing such an intimate form of health care.

Therapists were concerned about the efficiency of the technology or were afraid they’d miss nonverbal communication cues.

“Whether clients enter my office, whether they are having a good day or a bad day, there is a feeling you get – I talk about feeling an energy,” Guy said. “We are very warm and inviting when a client walks into the office. Those are things we can’t create virtually, so our ability to put clients at ease virtually is more challenging.”

But it can be done.

“I find myself using more facial expressions and my tonality has to change. Those are the things I try to do to create that warmth they might have had coming into the office,” she said.

Technology is improved, and there are methods and tools to use that can help make a session almost as good as being there.

For example, instead of using whiteboards for information in the office, a therapist can share a screen.

It helps to ask clients to be in a well-lit room and place cameras at a distance, so they are seen from the waist up.

“You still get to see their hands, fiddling with their fingers, or rocking side to side,” she said.

Teletherapy also can benefit patients beyond convenience.

“It allows more individuals access to health care but also offers a wider access to different clinicians. Most patients were limited to 30 miles around them. Now they can access anyone licensed in the state, so you open up that realm of possibility for people to seek specialized treatment.”

For example, if a patient has a rare condition that only a few clinicians are experts in treating, he or she doesn’t have to drive hours to seek it.

It also can cost less for clinicians because they many have closed their offices, and the percentage of client “no-shows” has decreased.

In addition, Guy said, the crisis has decreased the stigma of seeking mental health care and increased comfort level of doing so online.

“Technology has transformed mental health. This will definitely be a modality that will be here in the future,” she said. “Individuals will improve and perfect it, and patients will receive the same level of care as in an office.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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Virtual Behavioral Health and Social Sciences Conference

When: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Register: email [email protected]

Presentations:

  • The Shifting Role of Behavioral Health – The Result of a Health Care Emergency: Steven Sheets, LPC. COVID-19 has caused a shift to video and telephonic sessions. This presentation will look at outcome data and satisfaction levels for clients and long-term impact.
  • Collaborative Community Outreach and Engagement: A Project with Andre’ House: Dr. Kathleen Downey, Ph.D., LMSW, ACSW, Daylan Kiss, Angel Perez, Emma Czajkowski, Chloe Ehrke. This session will highlight the efforts of four undergraduate GCU students making a difference in the lives of guests served at Andre’ House, a service center in the downtown Phoenix area for people experiencing homelessness.
  • The Benefits of Teletherapy in Times of Community Crisis: Dr. Tanisha Guy, Ph.D., NCC, LPC-S. This workshop will explore how suffering individuals can begin to recover through telehealth. Discussion topics will include the unique benefits of teletherapy and myths surrounding the effectiveness of it.
  • Trauma-Informed Engagement with Historically-Disenfranchised Communities: Bianca Harper, DSW, LCSW. This presentation will discuss trauma-informed engagement strategies designed to support trauma survivors from historically disenfranchised communities.

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Related content:

GCU Today: GCU students fill growing behavioral health jobs

GCU Today: Behavioral health panelists inspire students

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