Telehealth and Resiliency: Supporting Those in Recovery in the Time of Social Distancing

– Written by Jane S., LMSW, TND Therapist

It’s fair to say that none of us are living by the status quo. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is far-reaching, and as a result many areas of life have had to adapt—including us. In recent weeks and with the guidance of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, The Next Door has implemented telehealth Intensive Outpatient Programs in order to meet the needs of our clients amidst this crisis.

While telehealth has been around in a variety of ways for some time, it has not experienced a boom as it has in the past month. Evidence supports teletherapy as similarly effective as in-person therapy, and it allows access to care that otherwise may be unavailable or unrealistic. Our telehealth clients include women who live too far from TND to drive here every day but want to remain connected to our organization; mothers who are caring for children now out of school; women at risk for complications from COVID-19, or who live with someone who is; and people who are doing their part to “social distance” and keep themselves, their families, and people at The Next Door safe by staying at home. They connect with the IOP group from their homes or halfway houses via a HIPAA-compliant video conference platform, for 12 hours per week. And it has been popular: within a week of starting, clients participating in telehealth has grown large enough to require more than one IOP group.

As a therapist, I never saw myself doing telehealth. I don’t even particularly like to FaceTime with my friends, and have always preferred talking in person versus  over the phone. I  went into facilitating telehealth IOP groups with some trepidation, but the truth is I shouldn’t have been surprised by the positive outcomes: that our telehealth clients are just as engaged and motivated, that they share their struggles and hopes with the group, that they give and receive support and encouragement, that they take notes as I provide psychoeducation, all just like they do in person.

It is not without its challenges. During our first group my internet crashed briefly, and I was relieved to see the clients’ faces waiting for me back on my screen when I finally was able to reconnect; and not a group goes by without at least one instance of me saying, “Wait, can you repeat that? You cut out for a second.” But those challenges are minor when compared to the challenge of staying sober in this time.

Many of our ladies have shared how scary it is to be newly sober in a world turned upside down. The combination of isolation, boredom, restlessness, financial insecurity, and anxiety (not to mention social media flooded with content that is normalizing binge drinking alone at home), can be overwhelming for our clients, many of them fresh out of residential treatment and trying to make their way in this strange world. Where many of them otherwise would be unable to receive continued treatment, we now have 20+ women navigating recovery with the support of their peers and the therapists and Certified Peer Recovery Specialists from The Next Door through their phones or computers.

In our IOP group, we’ve been talking a lot about resiliency lately, and what it means. Resiliency is not absence of hardship or adversity, but the ability to face, cope, and bounce back from it. And what an example of resiliency this has been: for the Next Door, to develop and implement this program so thoroughly and so quickly; for our clients, who show up every day with their stresses and sorrows and joys to find support in recovery; and even for me. A big part of developing resiliency is finding meaning and gratitude in the hard stuff, and every morning when I log on to see my clients (or at least the small picture of their faces) on my screen, it gives me a sense of gratitude and purpose in this time.

Published on April 6, 2020
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