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Psychotherapy clinic owner says referrals, workload has increased amid pandemic

BUCKHANNON – The Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur recently learned how virtual therapy has been working during the pandemic from the owner of Creative Connections Psychotherapy.

Creative Connections Psychotherapy is based in Buckhannon, but also offers a second location – Beacon Barn Therapeutic Farm – in Taylor County.

Sarah Long, an independently licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Creative Connections Psychotherapy, said independently licensed clinical social workers are the largest providers of mental health services in the country.

“We’re social workers, but we’re trained clinically to do psychotherapy, and that’s a unique way of doing therapy versus counseling or psychology because we look at the whole community, and that person in the community and we look at the bigger picture – that’s the basis of social work practice,” Long told the club during their virtually conducted Dec. 15 meeting.

She provides mental health services to children and adults in Upshur County.

“I specialize in trauma-informed psychotherapy, so when I was getting my master’s degree, I specialized in trauma processing,” Long said. “I work with any folks that have any type of trauma, but especially developmental trauma, which is trauma that happens during brain development during childhood.”

Her type of therapy utilizes talk, art, play, narrative, music and animal therapy.

“For about two years I did in-school therapy and just traveled around to all of the schools in Upshur County because in past employments I recognize there’s a whole population of kids who just lacked transportation outside of school,” Long said. “By seeing kids in school, I was able to find a loophole around that. If, for instance, their parents worked all the time or they just didn’t have reliable transportation, going to the schools was a way to help kids who might not get therapy otherwise.”

Once COVID-19 hit, Long said it became impossible to see her clients at school, so she had to learn quickly how to adapt to a virtual format.

“March was a big scramble of trying to figure out, ‘How do I get these kids who I was either already seeing in schools, or that I was seeing in my office, set up to continue services virtually?’” Long said. “I was lucky enough that I already had an electronic health records program set up that was all HIPAA-compliant, that automatically had a virtual venue embedded within it, so I was able to transition my business pretty easily. But it was a big learning curve for a lot of families and clients who were trying to figure out how to make this virtual thing happen, especially in the beginning.”

Long said people believe the pandemic slowed business down for therapists, but that is not the case.

“I’ve had a lot of people be say, ‘you’re working from home, are you not as busy?’ and in fact among myself and my colleagues, we are all way busier now than we ever were seeing clients face-to-face. There’s been such an increase in referrals, in requests for services, and it’s been a bit overwhelming to adjust to the limitations of a virtual format for me,” Long said. “I’ve been a therapist for 10 years to the point that some of it was a little bit automatic, and I had it down-pat – and then you take away my ability to be in the same room with someone and I have to relearn all kinds of stuff because I can’t do play therapy. I can’t do art therapy the way that I did.”

She said one silver lining of the pandemic is the fact that health insurance companies are covering outpatient telehealth services.

“Prior to COVID, there were a lot of insurances that wouldn’t cover outpatient therapy telehealth and since COVID hit, all insurances are like, ‘nope, we’ll cover it, that’s fine,’ so that’s made it easier for me to provide services in a safe way, and also for people to have access,” Long said.

“I hope that that continues, although us therapists are a little bit worried about what will happen if and when those insurance companies say, ‘okay, we’re not going to cover that anymore,’” she added.

Long said she and her colleagues are concerned what the long-term psychological impact will be from the pandemic and quarantine.

“We’re going to face some major mental health fallout from this time, and it’s hard to tell the gamut of symptomology we might see coming from this, so all of us to in the mental health profession are really gearing up and getting ready because it feels like we’re going to be dealing with the aftermath of being quarantined for quite a while,” Long said.

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