We collectively learned a great deal living with COVID-19. The pandemic tested our resilience and turbocharged our innovative spirit, causing us to rethink everything from how we shopped for food to how we taught schoolkids and provided health care, including behavioral health.
And even as we breathe a collective sigh of relief and fold masks into our back pocket, some of the lessons we discovered over the last two years will continue guiding us.
These new ways of thinking may not have been welcomed. In fact, we may have rebelled or resisted the change. But now that we know how valuable the benefits, these new teachable moments “stick.” One specific example? Virtual counseling, or telehealth, is here to stay — for a lot of great reasons.
First, from a client’s perspective, telehealth is far more convenient. I can speak with my counselor or clinician from the privacy of my own home at times that fit around work and family commitments. No leaving work early to arrive between 9 and 5. No driving required — a key issue now that gas prices exceed $4 a gallon.
Whether you Zoom, Teams or WebEx, basic technology and the Internet ensure you can still have that private, thoughtful interaction with a trusted counselor. You can still make that personal connection so essential to improvement. And your counselor can still see you and probe if there are changes in depression, anxiety or possible relapse that need attention.
Quality of care, of course, remains paramount. And, in some cases, telehealth actually may improve care. Suddenly, we can easily bridge concerns about physical proximity and connect you with the right caregiver — no matter where he or she may be located. We’ve recently added a first-rate clinician from Findlay who treats patients throughout central Ohio. We now connect people struggling with problem gambling to counselors who specialize in gambling addiction and who work from our main office on Alum Creek Drive in Columbus. We offer adolescent therapy in Delaware County even though our adolescent team lives in other communities.
Some people travel to our offices and take their telehealth treatment from one of our telehealth rooms. It doesn’t matter where you log-in. Experts meet with you from any location.
Telehealth also helps us with the workforce challenges that confronted behavioral health providers even before the start of the pandemic. We lack enough trained professionals, and that shortage is even more acute in rural communities. A study by The Ohio Council of Behavioral Health & Family Service Providers found that, even in the midst of the opioid epidemic, Ohio needed nearly 10,000 more mental health professionals in 2016. The organization further projected that the mismatch between need and caregivers would continue and even widen for psychiatrists and psychologists.
As the person responsible for hiring and supporting Maryhaven’s regional offices, imagine my relief and delight to find out that I could employ professionals from throughout the state to meet your needs. To repeat my earlier point about new ways of thinking caused by necessity, I uncovered this hidden asset of virtual health the hard way. A counselor in Union County wanted to attend graduate school, and I needed great caregivers to staff a 24-hour crisis line. Because of telehealth, I recruited therapists from our main office, Marion and Mt. Gilead. And, since they could work from home, several could take late shifts and assist clients after their own work was done and their children had headed off to bed.
Truly, everyone won. Clients receive great care, clinicians flex their work schedules, I met our commitments, and our communities can be assured that their residents and families were well served.
Whether we embraced it or shied away, a new era of virtual mental health care is here to stay