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Online Therapy for Children in COVID-19 Isolation - Everything you need to know

Uncategorized Apr 09, 2020

The internet has become ubiquitous with today’s generation, so it makes sense to start using online methods to educate young people about looking after their mental health and wellbeing.


We’re in week four of COVID-19 isolation here in Dubai. We are completely locked down now. This means anyone out and about getting essential groceries or pharmaceuticals must have a permit authorising them to do so. If not, you’ll get fined.


Working, studying and living together can be tough! Even The Waltons would be getting on each others’ nerves by now. The days seem to merge into one and the days can be loooooong.


Add to this mix someone who is struggling emotionally, and you’ve got a massive problem.


Insults, irritability, trouble sleeping, sulks, lack of motivation, tension, stress… does not a pretty picture make? Even worse if physical aggression and all-out sibling war are taking up your days.


How can you support a young person who is struggling with their mental wellbeing? If your child has visited a therapist before then get back in touch with them. Online talk-therapy is really effective and most therapists will offer this as an option.


Positive psychology interventions are also an option. These are activities your child completes on a regular basis - often daily. They can be simple activities such as journaling, gratitude diaries, exercising, mindfulness or other positive therapy activities that are evidence-based to increase well-being.


What’s the difference between therapy and an intervention? Therapy will be organised, managed and facilitated by an experienced mental health professional. They will be responsible for the sessions and administering any support between sessions. Positive psychology interventions (PPIs) don’t need to be overseen by a professional - they are things your child can do independently.


Is online therapy safe? Your therapist has a legal code of conduct and an ethical obligation to protect your child. This includes preserving their anonymity and confidentiality. Your therapist will keep all personal records strictly private and all sessions will be away from others who may overhear. This is not a problem at all during normal working days when most therapists work from their private consultation rooms. However, during COVID-19 lockdown you will have to ask your therapist how they plan to deal with family interruptions and what processes they have in place to conduct the session with the most minimal risk to your child.

How do I find a therapist for my child? Get referrals where possible and always ask your therapist questions that are playing on your mind. You have to be a good fit for each other, so ask away. I love it when I get thoroughly quizzed because it usually means that the client is going to take the therapy seriously and be committed during the therapeutic process.  Read the testimonials on their website or social media pages but please respect that not all therapists share their clients’ names or personal details.


Does online therapy work? I’ve got some pretty impressive research to show you here. Mostly because this was my area of research for my MSc dissertation, so I’m quite happy and smug to be able to share it with you! Yes, it works. In fact, there are loads of positives: it’s less time-consuming, there’s no journey time to consider and therapists are taught how to work online as part of their training now. Internet interventions are underutilised - they are more accessible and affordable than in-person interventions and lessen the burden on doctor’s waiting rooms.


Findings by The Children’s Society indicate that around 5-10% of children in the UK have reported low levels of wellbeing - with bullying, negative self-image and school-related stress being prominent concerns. The report highlights the importance of proactive, solution-focused interventions as a method of supporting children and young people. The report showed a strong link between subjective wellbeing and mental ill-health, therefore, further, elucidate the need for preventative methods to help children recognise and manage their own mental health.


Is online therapy worth it? It amazes me how much time, effort, money, and energy is taken up by after-school activities. One of the positives to come out of isolation is that children have more time to spend working on their mental health and wellbeing. If your child has been struggling recently but you’ve been too busy with other siblings, extra-curricular distractions or put off by traffic and parking then now is the perfect opportunity for you to dive into some therapy for them. Online therapy is fantastic and for sure will be the modus operandi for the future.


How much does an online therapy cost? This varies from $75 - $350 per hour. If you have medical insurance check to see if talk therapy, CBT or psychotherapy are covered. Sometimes you’ll need to be referred by a GP or Clinical psychiatrist. 


How long will online therapy take? Expect a session for a child under 8 years to be around 30 minutes and up to 60 minutes for an adolescent. Most therapists will recommend 6-8 sessions. These could be weekly or more frequently during a lockdown. If I had a child coming to me for quite serious problems then I’d recommend a couple of sessions per week to take full advantage of the lockdown scenario and get that child as much support as possible while other distractions were removed.

How do I convince my child they need therapy? I get asked this question a lot and my answer is always the same. I explain that therapists are like personal trainers but for the mind. We all want strong, fit and healthy bodies right…? Well, to have a healthy mind we also need to put a bit of work in to get great results. For the tech-savvy youngsters I explain that the mind is a bit like a computer and every now and again it glitches because there are too many files, the software needs updating or it simply needs to be taken off of standby, switched off and then back on again once it’s cooled down - our minds are exactly the same (well, not exactly but you catch my drift so roll with me here!) 


What if my child gets bored during the therapy sessions? Hopefully, this won’t happen and your child will be so immersed in the activities that the time will fly and the trouble will be getting them to stop at the end of the session. However, if we do get a wanderer, just gently coax them back in and remind them what the purpose of the session is and what the future benefits will be. If your child repeatedly refuses to attend the sessions then perhaps they’re just not ready and I would wait awhile or attempt a different style of therapy. 


Do therapists provide resources for online therapy? Yes, worksheets, activities, workbooks, planners and intervention activities will all be emailed to you. All you need to provide is a basic pencil case and some notepaper. Encourage your child to keep all their notes in a folder so they can revisit work in future sessions. 


How do I get started? Once you’ve found a therapist, get your first session booked up and see how it goes. A lot of therapists are giving discounts during this time. I’ve put together a list of practical suggestions to get your online session running smoothly.


Practical information to help your child’s online therapy session run smoothly: 

  1. The first thing is to check your internet speed is good enough to hold an online video call such as Zoom or GoToMeeting without freezing. If it’s your first time using these, tell your therapist so they can allow some extra time before the session to help get you set up.
  2. Set your child up with some earphones - I recommend this to all my clients because it minimises distractions and gets them in the ‘therapy zone’. It also stops ear screeching noise feedback and allows more privacy.
  3. Make sure your child has good lighting so the therapist can see their face and look out for nonverbal communication. No backlighting or anything that puts a shadow over their face.
  4. Disable social media tabs - no disturbances! 
  5. Mobile phones - I always allow young clients to bring phones into our sessions: 1) For their safety and security; 2) I sometimes ask them to take photos or notes of the work they've done during the session; 3) With parental permission, I get them to make a note of their between session tasks and remind them to message me in the week for support, to ask questions or accountability.
  6. Have a pen and notepad to hand and a nice clear, clutter-free and comfortable space to set your device or laptop up. Have a practice run to iron out the bumps.
  7. If your therapist has emailed over resources - make sure these are printed out ready for the session.
  8. Young children will probably want you to hang around for the first few minutes of the session - that’s fine, settle them in and then surreptitiously back out of the room and let the therapist do the job they’re trained to do and help your child. 
  9. Have a folder that your child can put their notes and worksheets in. Keep it organised from the start so they can bring it to each session and revisit previous work. 
  10. Remember that therapy and mental wellness is a journey; not a destination. Therapy can be exhausting so go easy on them after a session and respect their wishes if they’re not up for talking.

Best of luck to you. If you have any questions then head over to my Instagram page. I hang out on stories quite a lot and would love to answer your questions. @pivotalmind.

I am taking online therapy bookings for children and young people aged 8 - 18 years. I have a special COVID-19 lockdown rate of $199 for a 60-minute appointment.


If you’d like to book an appointment for your child please use this link


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