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Interim Housing Residents Utilize Therapy by Phone and Video Conference during Pandemic

jae-park-9_SaFlgwFdA-unsplash Rush University Medical Center is offering mental health services to residents of the Open Door Shelter - West Town over the phone or video. Photo by Jae Park.

More residents of The Night Ministry's Open Door Shelter – West Town are taking advantage of mental health counseling offered by Rush University Medical Center during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rush has been providing therapy as well as medication management at The Night Ministry's Youth Housing Programs for a few years now. Sarah Warner, Case Manager at The Night Ministry, said services are now being provided via telephone and video conference.

"Some of the residents seem to actually like the remote sessions better. A lot of them have had bad experiences in the past with being forced to see mental health providers and having the appointments on their phone can seem less intimidating. They can do it right within the comfort of their own room," she said.

Warner believes there are a few other reasons that more youth residing in the Interim Program at West Town are utilizing the counseling sessions with Rush post-doctorate fellows now.

"The youth really like the two postdocs that we have at West Town right now. They just really fit with the population we are serving," she said. "I think the biggest thing is that the sessions are a good outlet for our young people right now because so much in our world is slowed down due to the coronavirus. The therapists are really helping them cope with the new normal," Warner said.

Dr. Anne Rufa, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Rush, supervises the postdocs. She said the changes we are all experiencing may be leading people to focus on mental health.

"Like for everyone in this world, mental health can be something that young people put on the back burner or lower on their priority list. If your options are running an errand, going to work, or spending time with friends, people, especially young people, might veer toward choosing those instead of meeting with a therapist," she said. "And now that people don't have access to a lot of their usual activities, therapy can seem like a good option."

Rufa also said that studies show the outcomes of telemental health are equivalent to therapy conducted in person.

"There's a good amount of research to suggest that phone sessions or video sessions are just as effective and that people get as much benefit from them," she said.

Warner continues to provide case management remotely for young people at Interim. She said advice from one of the Rush therapists has helped her stay better connected to clients while she is not at the shelter in person.

"The therapist explained to me that one youth struggled with feelings of abandonment. She suggested it would be really beneficial to call the client just to have a conversation outside of our case management appointments. I started doing that and it's made the world of a difference," she said. 

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