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College of Social Work

  • Lakia Downs

COVID-19 Forces Transition from In-Person to Virtual Therapy Sessions

July 6, 2020
Chris Woodley •

A poll conducted in April by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45 percent of respondents said their mental health has been negatively impacted over worry and stress due to COVID-19. While quarantine and social distancing have prevented in-person sessions for private therapists and counselors, one alumna has joined others in using a method that has become increasingly popular for providing mental health services. 

Lakia Downs, LISW-CP, MSW ’12, is the founder and owner of The Soar Firm in Greenville. Her practice offers a variety of therapeutic and solution-focused services, including anxiety, adjustment challenges, depression, and work-life balance.   

COVID-19 forced Downs and other therapists to begin providing virtual teletherapy services in March. But aside from the initial transition and occasional technical or Wi-Fi difficulties, she has adjusted well to virtual sessions. 

“I was not offering virtual therapy, but COVID-19 forced many clinicians to consider it as an option for maintaining their practice and seeing clients without a disruption in services,” Downs says. “The good thing is that I can still share resources. For example, I may use a white board in some sessions and there is one I can use on the virtual platform, which is very helpful.” 

Downs has also found that her teletherapy sessions tend to be more relaxed than in-person visits for her clients and herself.

“People seem to be more relaxed at home than the office, which can feel more formal,” Downs says. “I've seen clients in rare form because they are more relaxed and might say something like, ‘Please excuse my hair.' I just tell them to do whatever makes them feel comfortable.

The subconscious thought pattern equates home to relaxation for most people. It's different for me at home than my office, where I need to put on my professional face.”  

Downs and other therapists have also seen an increase in referrals. Prior to COVID-19, some individuals may not have had time to focus on therapy due to work and extra-curricular activities. But as the world has adjusted to social distancing and facemasks, more people are considering therapy as work-life balance is more important now.     

“Some may not have felt they had time for therapy, while others are considering it now because they are dealing with challenges directly related to COVID-19. They might be uncertain about their jobs or the future and how they will navigate through life,” Downs says. “For some people, the changes and uncertainty can be a trigger and for others it can be difficult trying to be home-school mom or dad and work while having their kids at home full-time.” 

Knowing that Downs is not the only therapist dealing with a new work environment, she has been impressed by the support and shared resources of others who were also forced to provide virtual only services to their clients.

“There have been clinicians providing support and encouragement and practical ways to establish a rhythm for those who might be struggling with transitioning into the virtual scene,” Downs says. “I belong to several therapist groups on Facebook and Instagram, and they have been helpful for getting ideas on how to work with certain types of clients and navigate COVID-19 as a clinician. Everyone has really stepped up and shown support for one another.”

While adjusting to unprecedented times have been difficult for some, Downs credits her past experiences working in child welfare and programming to help prepare her for the current transitions. This was due to the uncertainties and unexpected circumstances that often arose in her past area of social work. 

“My previous experiences taught me to be a quick and critical thinker and be as proactive as possible,” Downs says. “You must be fluid. These are challenging times that may leave some people feeling stuck. But when you are in an environment that always requires you to be fluid, you learn how to go with the flow and take things one moment at a time.”

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