Will teletherapy ever become the norm

Coronavirus: Mentally ill people are an overlooked risk group

We are currently in a collective state of emergency for which we cannot fall back on any empirical values. Our previous life with all its stabilizing routines has been suspended, the duration and outcome of the crisis are uncertain.

In this uncertainty, the imagination blossoms and shapes a future that, depending on personality type, psychological constitution and material security, is somewhere between apocalypse and anti-global eco-utopia. In this way, various fears can at least be steered into order or even short-circuited with old hopes. For a while, anyway.

"No one can predict what this state of emergency will do to all of us, especially under the condition of social isolation," says Sylke Andreas, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the University of Klagenfurt. "The longer it lasts, the more problematic the effects on the psyche are."

The fact that, as with the risk of infection, there are high-risk groups in this area is often overlooked. "It is above all people with mental illnesses who are particularly suffering in the current situation," says Andreas.

Social isolation

For them, the collapse of their usual everyday structures and a completely uncertain situation that changes every day are more difficult to bear than for the mentally healthy. Whereby the social isolation intensifies the mental illnesses. Alone, without stabilizing routines and with a lot of time to brood, the risk of getting lost in oppressive and frightening thoughts increases.

"We have to recognize the endangerment of this special risk group and now pay special attention to them," said Andreas. As the head of the Psychotherapeutic Research and Teaching Center at the University of Klagenfurt, she can offer specific help for those affected in the current extreme situation.

"Our patients can receive telemedicine advice and treatment from us, and we have additional treatment places for people with acute psychological problems."

Prohibition of remote treatment

Actually, there is a ban on remote treatment in Austria. "In the current crisis, however, this ban is suspended," says Andreas. "I hope that the current situation will lead to a rethink and that this ban will be lifted permanently so that we can continue to offer telephone and video-based therapies in the future."

So that this new offer can be based on a solid scientific foundation, she also hopes for additional funds for further research into the effectiveness of teletherapy in the various forms of therapy.

But what can you do yourself in order not to get psychologically unbalanced in these times? "At the moment we especially need the emotional closeness to friends and family so that the ceiling doesn't fall on our heads at home," says the scientist and psychotherapist.

"In this situation, I recommend everyone to use the phone and social media more intensively than in normal times." This is no substitute for a hug, "but emotional closeness can also be conveyed over the phone and, above all, with the help of video-based communication almost as well as in face-to-face contact."

Stabilize the emotional world

Helping other people can also stabilize your own emotional world. "Prosocial behavior brings confirmation and gratitude from the environment, which is not only beneficial for others."

It is well known that where several people have to spend a lot of time together in one apartment, the vulnerability to violence increases. How can this be prevented? "I'm not a violence expert, but my personal advice is to create as much space and retreat as possible for everyone," recommends the psychotherapist. "Even having a punching bag in the apartment can help channel rising aggression."

And what about the much-invoked opportunities that every crisis is supposed to bring with it not only suffering and dangers? Well-founded insights can be discovered behind the slightly worn encouragement phrase. "In psychology, we know the phenomenon of 'post-traumatic growth'", reports Andreas.

"This means that people can grow internally after trauma or a serious illness." Their personality matures through the stressful experiences and it is not uncommon for them to set new goals in life. Presumably, due to the current situation, many people will also observe this psychological reaction in themselves and others.

The corona crisis as a forced retreat with the chance of self-discovery? Why not? After all, more people now have time for (self-) reflection than ever before. "How that ultimately affects, however, also depends on the duration of the state of emergency," says the scientist.

"But I can well imagine that abandoning the daily routine also triggers very positive developments." These - like the negative psychological consequences - usually only become visible when life is back to normal.

Broad spectrum of emotions

It is known from trauma research that people in a crisis often react very calmly and try all possible to get through the extreme situation well. "Many symptoms therefore only appear when the traumatic event is over and the emotional processing begins," says Sylke Andreas from her clinical experience.

The psychological consequences of the Corona crisis will reflect a fairly broad spectrum of emotions in the different countries, societies and (sub-) cultures: from a stronger feeling of solidarity to the courage for radical new beginnings to increased distrust of everything foreign. Whatever remains emotionally - people will no longer be the same as they were before Corona. (Doris Griesser, March 26th, 2020)

Therapy Inquiries:

Psychotherapeutic research and teaching center at the University of Klagenfurt

Tel .: 0463/27 00 16 19

Email :[email protected]

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