We understand that tending to your mental health is important, especially now as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues — and so do mental health professionals. Many have volunteered their time to provide free services and therapy sessions to help you cope with whatever you're going through related to COVID-19 or otherwise.
For instance, Adrienne Meier, PhD, signed up for two volunteer positions in New York: one Emotional Support Hotline created by the New York State Office of Mental Health (OHM) and another network specific to NYC healthcare workers on the front lines of this novel coronavirus pandemic. The response has been immense — over 14,000 mental health professionals have signed up to be notified of volunteer opportunities through the OMH, Dr. Meier told POPSUGAR. She said the process of volunteering itself has taken time due to the influx of signups (she's in the process of volunteering her services virtually as a psychologist in California, too, where she's also licensed to practice therapy). Why? Because, she said, people need her services right now (coronavirus anxiety is real).
Dr. Meier and other therapists POPSUGAR has spoken to do not consider crisis hotline work to be the same thing as teletherapy. Teletherapy is therapy sessions administered through HIPAA-compliant phone calls or video sessions from a licensed professional in your state — though teletherapy laws during the time of this national emergency are becoming less strict in terms of technology and may permit cross-state service. The same goes for messaging with a therapist on an app. It's therapeutic, sure, and can absolutely be beneficial, but it's not therapy in their eyes.
"If someone calls the hotline, we can provide them with support and listen and provide them with concrete coping skills to assist them in whatever mental health issue or crisis they're experiencing," Dr. Meier said. "It can still be really helpful to whoever's calling in. It's just a different type of help than we would perhaps offer in an ongoing therapy relationship." Licensed mental health counselor Sheina Schochet, who's volunteering her time as well, agreed. "It's considered more of a one-time therapeutic consult as opposed to consistent therapy because you're not getting the same therapist necessarily and it doesn't follow a consistent treatment plan."
Free Therapy Sessions or Other Mental Health Services During the Coronavirus Outbreak
Until July 1, Hillside Wellness Center is offering free group sessions for residents of California (then, groups will go back to the regular fee of $20 per session). And also until July 1, new clients who want to try couples, family, children, or individual therapy can do so at no cost for the first three sessions if they mention POPSUGAR, said Irene Yaymadjian, PsyD, clinical director of Hillside Wellness Center. She further said that after July 1, all couples, family, children, and individual therapy will cost $25 per session for the rest of the year. All sessions are currently conducted by phone, FaceTime, or Zoom (personal devices can be used at this time due to the national emergency). You can contact Hillside Wellness Center on Instagram or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Onsite Foundation, a nonprofit providing trauma-informed counseling, workshops, and resources, is offering a "Support in Service" program for frontline healthcare workers and medical staff in the United States affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Group sessions are free and are focused on emotional support as opposed to therapy, each held at different parts of the day as to accommodate healthcare workers' rotating shifts. Sessions will include up to 15 people via Zoom and will be led by Onsite facilitators who, according to a spokesperson, have years of experience supporting those suffering from trauma. Sessions will be offered through July 2, and applications can be found here.
A collective of therapists have volunteered their time with Coronavirus Online Therapy, a program for front-line and essential workers. Catherine Saxton-Thompson, MPH, MSW, LCSW, is one of the therapists, and she told POPSUGAR that she would consider this service to be therapy, as these workers are paired up with professionals in their state and they can continue sessions with those individual therapists. The sessions range from pro-bono (free) up to $50. (Note: Saxton-Thompson is also giving free mental health check-ins, which she said isn't considered therapy. They are sessions where she provides mindfulness tools and can help you find a therapist from your own state that you may want to become a client of during this time. If interested, you can contact her via her private practice website, Wholehearted Life Therapy.)
Through the First Responder & Healthcare Professional Support Program, Reloveution is offering sessions with volunteer licensed therapists who have mostly pledged to stay on for up to six weeks. Reloveution founder Marissa Badgley, MSW, told POPSUGAR that she is not considering it to be therapy because it is short-term and "designed to respond to acute stress rather than being an ongoing service and relationship." This way, she's able to match people with therapists across state lines (however, Badgley said she and her team are mostly matching people via email with therapists in their home states regardless). Reloveution is servicing healthcare workers, first responders, and their families across the US and Canada right now, and they can fill out this Google form.
All essential workers and their families based in the New York City Metro Area are eligible to request to speak to a mental health professional through this service. These free sessions will be conducted by phone or video, and the network of volunteers states that, for legal reasons, the services provided cannot be considered therapy. The network also can provide spiritual support, a spokesperson noted. Apply here.
First responders, healthcare professionals, essential workers, and their families can access teletherapy through a company called Veteran and First Responder Healthcare (VFR Healthcare). Sessions are conducted through a HIPAA-compliant platform with professionals licensed to administer therapy. A spokesperson said they accept most major commercial health insurance plans and are covering all copays and deductibles so there is no cost to people seeking their services. The number of covered sessions depends on your insurance plan. If you do not have benefits, they will work on developing a cost-free treatment plan, according to the spokesperson. To sign up, email email@example.com, call 800-530-1250, or fill out a contact form on their website.
A Final Note on Mental Health Services During This Time
As always, if you or someone you love are feeling anxious or depressed and need help finding resources, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (1-240-485-1001) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-6264) have resources available. Another important hotline is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741 for 24-hour crisis support. For any COVID-19 hotlines specific to where you live — such as the Emotional Support Hotline for New Yorkers (1-844-863-9314) — check your state government or city resources. Interested in teletherapy? Read up on video and phone sessions with therapists during this time.