7 Ways Online Therapy Can Work for You

7 Ways Online Therapy Can Work for You

FYI- Many insurance companies are waiving copayments for their clients who would like to receive online counseling at this time. Please connect with your mental health insurance provider to see if you are eligible.

Have you ever spoken to a friend on FaceTime?  Participated in a Zoom meeting for work?  Chances are you have virtually connected with someone via video at some point.  The world is becoming more virtual as technology improves and many have smartphones that allow you to reach out to someone quite easily. 

Now that much of the nation is practicing social distancing or are in places that many non-essential services are shut down due to COVID-19, we are staying home to flatten the curve and protect those who are more vulnerable to the virus.  In the past, this could mean weeks of skipped therapy or inability to access help when we all need it the most. Online therapy can provide treatment while also addressing the anxieties, stressors, and fears this pandemic has caused.

Recent research reflects that online therapy can be just as effective and sometimes, more convenient in our busy lives.  Also, virtual therapy can feel more comfortable for some as it is conducted while you are in your own environment.  As with traditional therapy, you receive the same treatment and can discuss what you need to with your therapist as if you were face to face. 

Let’s talk about the benefits of online therapy

1 It doesn’t just have to be on video

If you aren’t comfortable with video, online therapy offers other methods.  Some therapists offer text-based therapy and allow you to contact them throughout the week.  This can be especially useful for those with social anxiety, panic and agoraphobia.  Second, there is audio therapy – in this method, you and your therapist will meet on Zoom or the telephone. 

2 No commute

Commuting for therapy appointments can be cumbersome.  Add the costs associated (transportation, parking, childcare and missing work for appointments) it can become a financial and scheduling burden. Many people don’t begin therapy or stop going because of the difficulties in traveling to their therapist.  Online therapy removes these hindrances and makes it easier to find a time that is convenient for yourself and your therapist.

3 Great if you are uniquely abled

If you have accessibility issues or physical limitations including being housebound, online therapy is an excellent choice for you. 

4 Still covered by insurance

Many insurances cover online therapy sessions, however, it always good to contact your healthcare insurance to see if they are covered under your policy.

5 As always, it is confidential

As with your visits to your therapist are private and confidential, so are your online visits!  Online therapy is completely confidential and the same rules that apply offline are still applied online.  The therapy itself can sometimes cause stigma around mental health; online therapy reduces this.  That way you are more comfortable with the sessions and your communication during them. 

Also, communication online is encrypted through an HIPAA compliant platform called VSee. VSee is free for the you and can be downloaded onto your phone or computer.

6 Your therapist must be licensed in the state you live in

Some may be licensed in more than one state.  So, you know you are getting quality healthcare by a reputable and credited provider to meet your mental health needs.  This also means they are aware and comply with all Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), ethic and legal practices. 

7 You can have access to a specialist that you cannot find locally

You may want a certain type of therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy or other evidence-based treatment. Oftentimes, therapists formally trained and specialized in these modalities for panic, anxiety, and other diagnoses are much easier accessed virtually. You may more likely to find a suitable and qualified therapist if you go beyond the location you would stay in to visit a therapist in an office. 

Online therapy isn’t the best choice for everyone, and some mental health disorders may be better treated in person.  Clients who are actively at risk of harm to self or others are not suitable for teletherapy services. If you are feeling suicidal, it is better to be seen in person. That said, during the quarantine many therapists are allowing for online sessions regardless.  

Many of my clients are finding that treatment for their anxiety and worry during this time of uncertainty has been surprisingly easy, and it is a great way for your counselor to see where you live, meet your pets and maybe even family members. If you’re interested in learning more- please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Here’s to all of us taking great care of ourselves, and making it through to the other side stronger and thriving!

Is Uncertainty Causing You to Lose It?

Ambiguity, a sense of uncertainty about what’s going on or what might happen, is part of life. This blog post explores dealing with the unknowns in life and how to handle them.

Uncertainty can cause us excessive anxiety and worry

When Your Environment is Unpredictable

Wow, what a week.  Coronavirus or COVID-19 is all over the news and it seems that panic has set in. It is understandable to be anxious when uncertainty is all around us. Our world has been thrown off, and a new normal is here for the near future. 

Human distaste for the unknown is well-grounded in experimental psychology, and research has shown that when given the choice, most of us feel calmer knowing that something bad will happen in the near future vs. it possibly happening. This phenomenon is apparent even if it causes us intense stress. Daniel Gilbert, author of the best-selling book Stumbling on Happiness writes:

“Consider an experiment by researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who gave subjects a series of 20 electric shocks. Some subjects knew they would receive an intense shock on every trial. Others knew they would receive 17 mild shocks and 3 intense shocks, but they didn’t know which of the 20 trials the intense shocks would come. The results showed that subjects who thought there was a small chance of receiving an intense shock were more afraid — they sweated more profusely, their hearts beat faster than subjects who knew for sure that they’d receive an intense shock”.

WAYS TO HANDLE ANXIETY

We can’t eliminate uncertainty in our lives, but we can manage our reactions to the unknown in healthy ways using one technique that the best cognitive behavioral therapists employ:

REST Technique or Radical Acceptance

When you become overwhelmed or feel anxious, your first instinct may be to act impulsively or panic.  There is a healthier method – Take a REST.

  • Relax
  • Evaluate
  • Set an intention
  • Take action

Relax

Step one is to literally freeze and stop whatever you are doing.  Breathe.  Step away from the situation for a few seconds.  Try to find a different perspective on what is happening and create a space between yourself and the impulsiveness you may feel.  You can even tell yourself out loud to “Relax” or “Rest”.  Slow your breathing down and calm down before you decide on another course of action.

Evaluate

Ask yourself what is going on – what are the facts in the situation?  You don’t need to solve an ambiguous problem or discover any answers right now. You only have to evaluate what is happening to your physical, mental, and emotional self.  Move on to looking at other people around you.  At this point ask yourself “How do I feel?” and “Are the people around me in immediate danger?” Think right here, right now. 

Set an Intention

“Step three is to set an intention to do something.”  You can also treat an intention as a goal or plan.  Decide what you will do, pick a distraction or self-soothing skill and ask yourself “What do I need right now?”  Whatever you choose isn’t permanent, it is only for right now.

Distractors and soothers that help get you out of the uncertainty trap do not have to be expensive or time-intensive. Good examples of  immediate coping skills are: 

  • Count all the greens or blues in your vision. 
  • Describe a wall or other item in detail.
  • Alphabetize movies, songs, cities, etc. in your head or on a sheet of paper.
  • Breathe 4 seconds in, hold for 4 seconds, and out for 6. 
  • Pay close attention to the living things around you 
  • Clean, fix something, do anything where you move your body for 5 minutes. 

Take Action

Lastly, take action.  Mindfully move ahead slowly and meaningfully toward what you are doing.  Slow and deliberate often helps us get what we want to be done faster than rushing through.  Even if this is not the final solution to your problem, it is a healthy and effective way to thwart any impulsive behaviors or panic that may set in when uncertain. 

Once you start getting used to using the REST technique, you will begin to identify when you are distress and can implement these steps in a few seconds.  You will be ready to spring your new habit into motion and “REST” when you feel like you are in a similar situation again. 

QUIZ: HOW WELL DO YOU MANAGE UNCERTAINTY?

Everyone has a different level of tolerance for ambiguity. Wondering how good you are at tolerating ambiguity? There is an easy way to find out. The Tolerance for Ambiguity scale will tell you. You will respond to a set of 16 statements about your attitudes and behaviors. Whether your score is particularly high, or lower than you expected, it is interesting to know where you stand. This information might also be helpful to a therapist who you consult to help you manage anxiety.

TAKE THE QUIZ

What can You Control?? 

Of course, if you follow the directions given by healthcare professionals for the coronavirus, you will feel like you have some control and they are good precautionary habits to have in our current environment. 

Also, make sure you stay connected with your support system via phone and video and limit your use of social media, which is less interactive and in turn, increases our anxieties. 

References

Matthew McKay Ph.D., Jeffrey C. Wood PsyD, et al…  The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, … (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook) New Harbinger Publications; Second Edition, Revised edition (October 1, 2019) Print.

Coping with Anxiety

As the world has been inundated with news of the coronavirus,  I want to share this great post by fellow therapist and gifted writer, Brianne Rehac, LMHC in how we all are coping with anxiety differently. Take good care of yourself and your loved ones this weekend! Warmly- Karen

“This week, I have spoken to many people about their heightened emotions since the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Everyone has a definition of what is a stressful event for them. And everyone reacts to those events differently. If you find that you have not felt impacted at all by reports of the coronavirus outbreak, that is a perfectly okay response. If you find that you have been more anxious, sad, irritable or angry lately, that is completely normal, too. Our reaction to stressful events is a product of a multitude of factors including, our proximity to the event, socioeconomic status, personal history, and personality. Some people who may respond more strongly include individuals who are managing a mental health condition (like anxiety), children, and first responders/healthcare professionals.

Anxiety and Stress during coronavirus
Sometimes responses to a stressful event don’t present as emotions. Instead, you may notice a change in sleep patterns; change in appetite; difficulty concentrating; worsening of a chronic health problem (like GERD or chronic pain); change in behavior (stocking up on essentials or changing your routine); or increased use of alcohol or other drugs.
It is really important that during stressful times, you continue to take care of your physical and mental health. That means sticking to your treatment plan, including taking medications as prescribed; attending routine appointments; adhering to any special diet you may have. It also means reaching out to your supports—family, friends, doctors, therapists, and support groups. You’re connecting to them not just for yourself, but for them, too. Let’s all check in with each other on this, okay?”
—Brianne

Information about COVID-19 is being updated frequently, so here are some additional resources to find updated information as needed:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html

Another article on coping with anxiety                                           https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html

Hotlines:
SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline
Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990 (English and español)
SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746
SMS (español): “Hablanos” al 66746
TTY: 1-800-846-8517
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8255
Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio
1-888-628-9454
Options For Deaf + Hard of Hearing
1-800-799-4889
Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-8255
Text 838255

Top 5 Mental Health Apps

Top 5 Mental Health Apps

Your mental health is important, why mental health apps? Sometimes you cannot afford to see a therapist, do not have time to go to one, or one isn’t accessible where you live. Perhaps you aren’t ready to see one but would like to see what therapy all is about. Maybe you see a therapist, but need help to put the helpful techniques they have given you into practice. Mental health apps can be very beneficial, free, low-cost or affordably priced, and offer a way to help give you therapeutic help on the go. So which ones are best? There are so many out there!

Mental health apps that I recommend:

1. Headspace

Headspace is an app that just about anyone can use, whether you are dealing with stress, anxiety, lack of focus, or sleeping difficulties. It teaches you to “meditate and live mindfully”. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, lessens anxiety, support emotional health, and enhances self-awareness. This app provides small meditation modules to accommodate people’s busy schedules and “SOS exercises in case of sudden meltdowns.” You can take advantage of their free trial and if you like it, you can make the jump to a monthly subscription.

2. Youper

Youper is an app that is powered by AI – “your emotional health assistant”. This app allows you to have conversations, guidance through meditations that are personalized for you and trackers that help you monitor your emotional health and mood. This technology created by doctors, scientists and engineers;focuses on the science and pursuit of happiness – helping those with depression and anxiety live happier lives with treatments personalized for them. This app also works in conjunction with seeing a therapist, as you can ‘share’ your information. Many of my clients use this app as complements many of the CBT techniques we use right in session.
Youper is free to download and have some free features; more advanced features are based on a subscription plan.

3. FitMind

This app offers meditation training as part of a “mental fitness” approach. FitMind uses traditional techniques used since ancient times with western science. Using daily challenges, along with access to meditation instructors; FitMind can help you learn to meditate in a way that works for you. Again, meditation is a useful tool for improving mental health because of all of the health benefits you get from practicing it. This app is free and offers in-app purchases.

4. Sanvello

Sanvello is an app designed for stress, anxiety, and depression using strategies and resources that can help you with the symptoms and situations you are dealing with at the moment. You can customize goals; like mindfulness, building confidence and thinking positively. Based on clinically proven techniques, this app offers tracking for mood and sleep, tools for relaxation and meditation and you can connect to a group of your peers for further support. Free to sign up and install.

5. MoodKit

This mental health app uses four tools that are designed to enhance your mood, identify and change unhealthy thinking, track mood, and create journal entries. Managing negative feelings thoughts by identifying situations that cause stress, changing how you think, monitoring your mood through tracking, and developing self-awareness through writing is all of the ways MoodKit is designed to help you improve your mood and mental health. This app is only available on the iPhone and iPad, but is just $4.99.

Mental health treatment is no longer limited to the office and self-help books. Whether you are on the road, want quick help, or establish a daily cognitive behaviorally based self-care routine, there has never been so many options on how to start.  It’s good for you, and most apps have a free trial! Jump in and let us know how it goes.

7 Secrets to Making your New Year’s Resolution Stick: Part 4 of a 4-Part Holiday Series

We want change to happen quickly. However, it takes time to accomplish our New Year’s goals. The following are 7 tips to help you stick with your resolutions and succeed!

Tip #1: Stick to One Goal

When deciding on a New Years’ resolution, stick to the one thing.

  • Do not overwhelm yourself.
  • When you feel overwhelmed, you get discouraged.
  • When you get discouraged, you are more likely to quit at the first sign of difficulty.

Try to relax, and stay away from any change that may be unrealistic.

Tip #2: Keep it Measurable

The best way to keep your resolution measurable is to start small. Begin by taking baby How to Make Your New Year's Resolution Sticksteps once a day. If your resolution is to hydrate, drink one more glass of water a day. If you want to stop drinking soda, start by drinking one less a day. Over time, these little changes add up to help you reach your goal. In addition, try to be mindful of your goal throughout the day. When you remember, take a micro-step toward achievement.

That means drinking an extra glass of water when it crosses your mind!

Tip #3: Anticipate Barriers

Before you even try to enact your resolution, make a list of the barriers you anticipate in the process. Ask yourself what self-defeating roadblocks you have encountered in past efforts. Then, ask yourself what you see as impeding your future efforts.

  • These could sound like thoughts such as, “I don’t feel like it” or “I don’t have time”.
  • You may also notice yourself engaging in sabotaging self-talk such as, “I deserve a break” or “I’m not motivated”.
  • Now, write down your personal barriers.

Afterward, record what you are going to do the next time this barrier rears its ugly head. In your quest for a change, you are bound to hit upon the barrier of resistance. At its root, resistance is a reaction founded in fear. If you are afraid of change, you are essentially afraid of reality, because change is the essence of reality. So, why are you afraid of change?

Here are some ways to cope with the fear of change

  • Replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk
  • Research makes fear disappear because research gives you control
  • Practice makes perfect, so practice until you are less afraid
  • Figure out the worst possible outcome, then become okay with it
  • Nip fear of failure in the bud by becoming okay with any possible criticisms or embarrassment. Consistent failure is what leads to success.

Tip #4: Make an Advantages Card

Why do you want this? What is the benefit? There are going to be some hard times throughout your journey of change, times when you need to remind yourself of the why. Therefore, an important step in keeping your New Years’ resolution is making an advantages card.

An advantages card can be made of anything you want. Some people like to use a notecard, while others write on mirrors or dry erase boards. The content is simple. Just make a list of all the reasons why you want to accomplish your goal. Maybe you want to lose weight to become healthier, or maybe you have a specific clothing size you want to hit.

Read your list twice a day, really reflecting on why you want to accomplish your goals. In times of extremely self-defeating thoughts, it is recommended by cognitive behavioral therapists that you read your advantages card as needed.

Tip #5: Accept You Will Have Bumps

It is important not only to realize but also to accept you will slip up along the way. There are instances when you will be barraged with berating thoughts and crumble under the pressure. However, do not use a mess up to engage in all or nothing thinking! When you encounter a bump in the road, do not give up! For example: when you smoke that cigarette you know you shouldn’t have, do not throw in the towel and buy a whole pack. Remember, in order to make a habit your new behaviors take a minimum of 3 weeks. Be patient and practice self-compassion, especially when you inevitably mess up!

Tip #6: Ask Someone to Hold You Accountable

This tip sounds as though it would be easy. However, it can be the most difficult, especially if you are allergic to criticism. That is why it is important to find someone you trust and respect to hold you accountable. Although you may want to fight them, you will be more likely to listen when you know they are giving advice with good intentions. A good CBT therapist holds their clients accountable by assigning homework and expecting follow-through, so don’t be afraid to seek out professional guidance if you are having difficulty finding external support.

Tip #7: Make a Plan

When you make your plan, focus on the small steps and not the goal. Instead of writing down “I will lose 20 lbs this year”, break that larger goal down into more manageable steps. This could look like, “I will drink more water” and “walk around the block each day”. After you accomplish small successes, find a way to celebrate! Don’t skip this step, because it is extremely important. When you reward yourself, your brain will remember the dopamine rush and be more willing to do your bidding.

Check out this blog from TED to give you some motivation!

Other articles in  this series: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach to Holiday Success’

Part I: How to Keep the ‘Happy’ in Your Holidays

Part 2: 4 CBT Based Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism

Part 3: 10 Ways to Ward off Loneliness this Season