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To say 2020 hasn’t been easy would be an understatement. Constant isolation, not being able to see close friends and family, and the economic repercussions of a pandemic have been harmful for many from a mental health standpoint.
According to an online national survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 21 per cent of those surveyed experienced moderate to severe anxiety and/or depression, due to COVID-19, while an additional 20 per cent reported feeling lonely. The survey found a “gender gap” in the mental health impact of the pandemic, with women between the ages of 18-39 reporting significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression than male respondents.
CAMH noted that one in five adults survey had received professional help for mental health concerns at least once in the week prior to responding to the survey. While the results show that the country is moving in the right direction towards normalizing therapy, the pandemic created new hurdles to accessing care by eliminating the opportunity for in-person therapy.
While many people were able to transition from in-person to online counselling smoothly, the same can’t necessarily be said for those without experience in therapy. For people seeking help for the first time, it may feel bizarre to pour your heart out to a stranger at all, let alone over video chat. But, it’s not as daunting as you may think.
To start, it’s important to highlight that therapy is a very personal and subjective experience. While others may feel more comfortable meeting with a therapist or social worker in person, virtual therapy can be just as effective, and potentially even more so, because of its accessibility.
“I honestly find the virtual work to be just as deep, meaningful, and effective and my clients report similarly,” says Aliza Shupac, a Toronto-based social worker and psychotherapist with more than 10 years of experience in the field. “Most of my clients report that they actually appreciate the ease of virtual sessions and the lack of travel time. I’m not sure people will want to go back to in-person sessions once this is all over.”
With that in mind, here are a few ways to make your experience as comfortable and impactful as possible.
Ask for a consultation
When it comes to finding the right therapist, it can be a hit or miss process. Not only do you have to make sure they have experience treating the issues you’re dealing with, there also needs to be some level of compatibility. With that in mind, many mental health professionals offer free consultation calls for that reason.
“I would encourage people who are curious to reach out and schedule a consultation. This will give you a chance to ask any questions and get a feel for the therapist and see if it’s a good fit,” says Shupac. “It can be helpful to ask the therapist if they have specific experience and training in the area that you are seeking support.”
It will also help to have a small level of rapport before your first official session.
Privacy is key
One perk of travelling to a therapist's office is privacy. You can speak openly and freely with no chance of your friends and family peeping in. While this matter of privacy may be one hiccup in virtual therapy, Dorian Schwartz, a Toronto-based clinical therapist, recommends finding a cozy and remote part of your home or apartment where you won’t feel on edge.
“Therapy can be a very vulnerable experience and privacy is key to feel comfortable. If clients are worried about housemates overhearing them in session, I’ve recommended using a white noise machine or app and placing it by their door,” she says. adding that she also encourages her clients who deal with a lot of anxiety to keep objects that are soothing or grounding nearby, such as a weighted blanket or cup of tea.
If finding a tranquil corner in your home isn’t really possible, Schwartz says a lot of her clients enjoy sitting outsiide or going for a walk during their calls.
Speak your mind
Lastly, make sure to speak up when it comes to your wants and needs throughout the process. If you still don’t feel fully comfortable in your sessions (more alarming than just first-time nerves), it just may not be a right fit.
“In general with therapy, it’s important for clients to know that if there’s something that doesn’t feel right or comfortable it’s important to let the therapist know,” says Shupac. “Effective therapy rests in large part on the strength of the therapeutic relationship and a key piece of that is being able to tell your therapist when something doesn’t feel right for you, knowing that your therapist will respond empathetically and remedy it.”
Whether it’s your lack of compatibility with your therapist, or you feel as though you’re not being fully heard or understood, make sure to articulate those concerns early on.
“Be as open as possible with your therapist about any hesitations you may be having,” adds Schwartz. “They should be able to guide you through the process and adapt to your needs.”
If you or someone you know is suffering, please contact Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.
For a full list of resources including mental health services in your area, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association.