Embracing Telehealth: Navigating mental health through a screen

Around six weeks ago I was walking out of my therapist’s office and we were both wondering what would come of our appointments in the next few weeks. I’m pretty sure I made a joke about how awkward it would be to do a therapy session through telehealth – and well, here we are. My therapist and her practice wisely decided five days later to only conduct sessions through video conferencing for the duration of this pandemic.  

I got an email from their administrative team telling me that I had to contact my insurance company to see if they would even cover these visits. This was two days before Governor Raimondo signed the executive order that medical visits conducted via phone or online must be covered under the patient’s health plan. That being said, I fully acknowledge my privilege in that during this time, I’ve remained insured. 

The day of my appointment I received not one, but six different invitations to a telehealth appointment, and after a few minutes of fighting with my laptop, I got logged into a secure session. I think everyone must understand that as great as technology is, and as proficient as we’ve gotten with it, there’s always going to be some kind of frustration right now. Be it the computer doesn’t work, the program malfunctions, or you just have a moment and forget how to function as a technologically capable adult. 

And the appointment? It was weird, at first. 

I logged on in the quietest room of my house, which was my stepdaughter’s bedroom, and I can assure you that I never thought I’d be talking about my mental health while a giant poster of Elsa from Frozen hung above my head. We checked in, like normal, and I found myself struggling to talk to my therapist. I find myself decently articulate when talking about my struggles, but being on the computer, stuck in a tiny bedroom, and stressed out about the fact that the world was being swept with an illness that we didn’t know much about – words were failing. 

My therapist paused, and knew exactly what to ask, “What are you thinking about all of this?”

I blurted out quickly, desperate to talk: “It’s hard – like – I crave knowing, some kind of certainty, anything that just tells me what is going to happen, and everything is going to be okay. The only certainty right now is uncertainty.” 

“That. That right there is your motto.”

I am pretty sure my therapist could feel the look I gave through my five-year-old webcam, which made everything just a little blurry. I am not a person who does mottos, or affirmations, and I’ve been incredibly resistant to everything mindfulness related, ie, I am a terrible therapy patient. 

“I’m serious,” she said. “This is one giant exposure to all the things that scare you.” Exposure being the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) technique that challenges the patient’s (my) thinking. It took me a moment, and I thought about it, and felt a small droplet of hope. I started looking at this weird telehealth appointment no longer as something weird and foreign as a way of connecting my normal life to my pandemic life, and I started to feel incredibly grateful for the fact that I could still talk to my therapist, even if it was through a screen. 

The link to telehealth has been vital in me getting through this pandemic. Every Tuesday since Mid-March, I log on to the same session, and my therapist is waiting for me. We talk about how I’m handling everything, which some weeks is really great, and other times I’ve logged on sobbing and needing to talk about how hard things are, and other times, I just log on and say – this is hard – but I’m glad you’re here. 

In fact, in this weird and strange world of telehealth and doctor’s appointments being done online, I am finding myself embracing that motto my therapist encouraged me to. There really is no certainty in a lot of what we’re dealing with – and that’s okay – but there is also the comfort of knowing that there is still a way for me to reach out and say that I need help and receive it – even though it’s through a screen.