We all know how the coronavirus threatens our physical health. We could get sick. We could die. We could become exhausted from the demands of work, family life and even just grocery shopping. And it’s a threat to our mental health, too. A lot of us — even people who typically don’t struggle with mental health issues — are having a tough time now.
That’s because all of us are experiencing trauma, whether we recognize it or not, says Melanie Ross Mills, a family relationship expert in Dallas: “Trauma sounds so extreme, but it’s the unpredictability. We’re all feeling some degree of loss of control or uncertainty.”
We’re worried about our health and the health of those we love, our jobs, and the economy. We’re not sure when social distancing restrictions will lift. And we wonder if things can ever go back to normal. “Anxiety can ensue without us even realizing it,” Mills says.
You can benefit from therapy even if you’re managing
Beth Darnall, associate professor and psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine, says that you shouldn’t think of therapists solely in terms of treating mental health problems and psychiatric disorders. Therapists can also optimize our wellness and functioning. That mindset is useful because it removes the feeling that there has to be some threshold — that the time to see a therapist is when life becomes unmanageable, she says.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious, sad, or uncomfortable for several days, it might be helpful to seek out a therapist who can help you explore those issues.
“Seeing a therapist online is simple and could be a true gift to your heart, mind and body during this time. Some of us are ‘stuck in our heads’ and aren’t equipped with the tools to climb out of the hole we feel we are stuck in. We are losing sleep, overeating, emotional, and anxiety-ridden,” Mills says.
During the coronavirus crisis, you may need to optimize stress management, improve your health behaviors or adjust to the demands of 24/7 family interactions. “Therapists can help you develop a care plan focused on what’s meaningful to you and aligned with your values,” Darnall says.
Trained mental health professionals can also provide online treatment for people with coronavirus-triggered mental health problems like depression, anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder, Darnall says.
How do you find a therapist?
With most of us living under social distancing regulations, you’re probably going to connect with your therapist over your computer or on the phone.
If you have health insurance, that’s the place to start. Make sure virtual sessions are covered and find out whether phone appointments will work or if sessions need to be held via video. Ask how much your copays are.
You may be able to search your insurance company’s database for mental health professionals. You’ll probably need to find a therapist in your state, but with virtual therapy, you don’t need to limit yourself to your immediate area.
You can also try:
- The American Psychology Association
- Psychology Today
- The psychological association for your state
- Open Path Collective
- And, of course, word of mouth
How do you pick the right therapist?
Find a few therapists who seem like they might match your needs, and make some calls. “New clients are sometimes skeptical about starting therapy, and it’s helpful if you know what to expect,” says Ashley Baldwin, a licensed professional counselor who practices in Emmaus, Penn., and specializes in anxiety, depression and grief.
Most therapists will offer a brief free consultation. Ask:
- What should I expect?
- What’s your treatment approach?
- What’s your area of expertise?
“Seeing a therapist is similar to choosing who you want to be in a relationship with,” Mills says. “You might have to try a couple before you find a fit for you. Each therapist has their own approach, style of communication, skills, experiences, knowledge and way of working with clients.”
Darnall also recommends consulting with several therapists before you choose. “You’re looking for someone you feel safe and comfortable with. Allow yourself the flexibility to interview a few, and even then, allow yourself to change your mind,” she says.
Take care of logistics before your first session
Expect an appointment to run 45 to 55 minutes unless your therapist says otherwise. Before you start, make sure you and your therapist can connect on the same video platform, like Zoom or Virtual Therapy Connect.
And if other people live with you, you’ll want to find a private space and time, even if that means hogging the bathroom. If you have small children, you might want to schedule sessions for after bedtime.