Being new to the world of telemedicine, I found myself feeling skeptical that this modality would benefit the clients I work with. About half the clients I see attend therapy in-person, while the other half attend virtually. I often wondered how I was supposed to connect with individuals on a deep level when we were hundreds of miles apart. I wondered how I would assist them in the vent that they had a medical emergency. Finally, I wonder what the space would look like between those clients who attend therapy in-person versus those who attend virtually. Though I had many doubts and concerns about telemedicine, I also felt hopeful that it could benefit clients.
Prior to the pandemic, I worked on an inpatient unit that specialized in treating people with eating disorders. I covered the entire state of Pennsylvania, since there are limited supports for people with eating disorders. Finding aftercare for these individuals could be excruciating, and many would be discharged to outpatient providers with no training in eating disorders. Our partial hospitalization program was the next step for many individuals who lived closer, but something needed to be done for those who were unable to travel great lengths to receive the treatment they so desperately needed. Telemedicine brought a flicker of hope for those individuals who did not have good access to treatment, potentially saving lives for many suffering with eating disorders.
Still, I wondered how I was going to connect in a meaningful way with my clients on the other side of a screen. To my surprise, I learned to connect with clients by understanding the space between us, even though we were separated by great distances. I was able to see them in their home environment. Their rooms spoke volumes of who they are and how they created meaning in their lives. I saw colorful walls, beautiful tapestries, stuffed animals that provide comfort, inspiring artwork. and loyal pets. I could also see the chaos of children running behind them, individuals trying to find a moment of quiet from the outside world but also longing to be a part of that world. I noticed the little details and used those to connect with clients. I could see what was important to individuals simply by observing their spaces.
It was also surprising to see how clients who attended in-person group therapy could still feel connected to clients who were virtual. They found common ground as one saw a glimpse into the other’s world. They would ask each other how their pets were doing and encourage one another to continue pursuing their hobbies. The space between them was one of hope, joy, and motivation. There were also plenty of moments when the space felt heavy, sad, and hopeless. In these moments, clients would support one another. They would find meaning together in their journey toward recovery. That is what group therapy is all about, and telemedicine appears to be one way to promote the growth of meaning in my clients’ lives.