Less than two weeks before the first COVID-19 cases showed up in New Mexico, 22-year-old Sevía Gonzales went looking for a therapist to cope with the effects of an unhealthy relationship she recently ended.
Before she could make an appointment for a face-to-face session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a stay at home order, thrusting Gonzales “…into an equally unbelievable situation.”
She looked for therapists offering remote services covered by her insurance and found a few practices, but each had long waitlists. “The system is just so overwhelmed it’s not even worth it to try to get an appointment at this point,” she said.
Sevía Gonzales. In an effort to continue serving clients during the pandemic, many therapists and counselors across New Mexico have shifted to therapy online or over the phone.
It’s a solution, but one that fundamentally changes the way therapists normally interact with clients, those in the industry say. Usually, therapy is done in the same room sitting face to face, a more intimate setting where therapists not only listen to what a client is saying but can pick up on nonverbal cues.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Patsy Romero, CEO of Santa Maria El Mirador, an adult behavior and intellectual disability care center in Santa Fe. But online or over the phone therapy doesn’t replace face to face treatment, she said.
Clients “express fear that the phones are not secure, or they’re not as forthcoming with how they’re really feeling,” Romero said, adding that body language is sometimes more important in therapeutic treatment than verbal communication.
Face to face processes are much more effective than online therapy, she said.