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The couch at home: self-isolating psychotherapy during the COVID-19 pandemic

By June 23, 2020Uncategorized
Hand holding a smartphone in front of a screen computer. The phone has Skype app open.

With more than 200 psychologists per 100,000 inhabitants, Argentina has more psychoanalysts per capita than any other country in the world. People seek them out in difficult times, when they need a professional to lend an ear and offer advice. In the current context of compulsory social isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, psychotherapy sessions have evolved, and videoconferencing or telephonic options have emerged to replace face-to-face meetings.

This is due to the convergence of two separate needs: that of patients wishing to continue their therapy; and that of psychologists, mostly independent workers, whose source of income has been severely impacted by the scope of social isolation.

“The personal is very important, there is no doubt – but teletherapy is a very valid alternative tool,” psychiatrist Gustavo Orlando assured Clarín a few days ago. Orlando has years of experience dealing with emergencies and crises in the private health system. “For some time now, I have been treating patients via Skype; European patients whose demand arose by recommendation, and also Argentines who live abroad, who could not find someone appreciative of their personal issues, due to the obvious cultural differences”, he explained to the best-selling Argentine newspaper.

Much has been made of this issue in Argentina since mandatory social isolation began, as prepaid medical insurance companies initially spoke out against granting coverage for online sessions, before later reversing their position.

Although the situation leaves little room for an alternative, some professionals admit to the limitations of carrying out their work via video calls. There are limitations to the online format, it is true. But it is better than severing the connection,”, said Martín Etchevers, Research Secretary and professor in charge of “Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapies: Emergency and Interconsultation” at the UBA (University of Buenos Aires) Faculty of Psychology. Speaking to Clarín, he acknowledges that “in a crisis like this, it is better to maintain communication by any means possible. There will be plenty of theorizing and research on the effectiveness of this. But my recommendation is simple: do it, have your teletherapy session. It is preferable because quarantine is a tremendous strain on the mind and on the maintenance of interpersonal relationships”.

Notwithstanding the difficulty of guaranteeing private spaces that isolation entails, videoconferences offer patients and professionals the possibility of maintaining contact, continuing therapy and ensuring minimal disruption.

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