As the country begins to open back up in an attempt to return to normal, you may be tempted to return to in-person psychotherapy sessions. After all, screens and speakers are no substitute for sitting in your therapist’s office. However, clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Todd Essig believes that there are more benefits to telepsychiatry in our current situation. In his article, “Want to See Your Therapist In-Person Mid-Pandemic? Think Again”, Essig discusses the decreased rewards and increased risks to explain why in-person therapy is not ideal at this moment in time. Here is a brief overview of Essig’s argument:
Decreased Reward of In-Person Therapy
Many people are eager to return to in-person therapy because of the fact that video or audio based telehealth is different and poses certain difficulties. While this is certainly true, it is important to note that we are not returning to in-person therapy as we know it. Instead, in-person therapy has now been changed as a result of the pandemic. Essig believes that these changes ultimately decrease the reward associated with in-person therapy.
He notes that in-person therapy works because of a sense of security between therapists and their clients. However, pandemic protocols like social distancing, wearing masks or face shields, frequent sanitation, symptom monitoring, and contact tracing unfortunately undermine this sense of security. Simply stated, the constant worrying about infection is ever present and distracts both therapists and their clients from being able to address some of the deep, dark issues that therapy often deals with. Not only that, but contact tracing is a necessary viral protocol that threatens confidentiality and further decreases the sense of security between therapist and client. As Essig puts it, “The vigilance required to remain safe will inevitably reduce the therapeutic benefits one might hope would develop from being back in the office”.
Increased Risk of Infection with In-Person Therapy
Along with a decreased sense of security, Essig also notes that in-person therapy comes with an increased risk of infection. This is due to the fact that the environment in which in-person therapy is conducted is the very one that we’ve been advised to avoid. That is, two or more people meeting inside a tiny, enclosed space for extended periods of time. Even the best pandemic protocols cannot eliminate the risk of infection in this scenario, although they may reduce the risk.
Considering Essig’s argument, we must consider the fact that video or audio based telehealth is preferential, at least for now. Although telehealth lacks some of the aspects of in-person therapy, it can still provide a stronger sense of security between therapist and client than in-person appointments during a pandemic. At the same time, telehealth completely eliminates the risk of infection due to close contact for extended periods of time. Eliminating the risk of infection is a key benefit that in-person therapy can simply not offer. However, during a pandemic, eliminating the risk of infection is one of the most important benefits. For this reason, continuing telehealth services is the best choice for pandemic mental health treatment.
Dr. Miller is trained in Adult, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. She is also trained in Anesthesia and Pain Management. Because of her broad experience, Dr. Miller is uniquely qualified to treat psychological trauma, depression and anxiety that can occur as a result of injury or disability. For more information, schedule a consultation at NJ Family Psychiatry & Therapy.