While social distancing is helping to slow the spread of COVID-19, it isn’t without its share of challenges.
For those who live alone or are separated from loved ones, feelings of loneliness or isolation can oftentimes set in. Those who used to gather together in person for group therapy sessions to counter these issues are currently unable to do so. To counter this, the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System is turning to technology to assist.
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System has a team of six peer support specialists working from home and providing individual and group therapy via VA Video Connect.
“We currently have eight groups up and running,” said Justin Grata, program manager for the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center. “We are also meeting with each vet in our program individually, some every week, providing additional support and recovery coaching to assist with maintaining quality of life during these times.” These groups range in topics from depression management, pathways to recovery, women’s support, and others.
Many providers and programs in Behavioral Health have also started implementing groups of their own. Grata has worked with the Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder therapists and other mental health providers to guide them through the process of setting up online groups, so Behavioral Health can continue to provide the needed treatment to veterans.
“One of the most important aspects of receiving treatment for mental health is consistency,” Grata said. “This applies to the veterans receiving the treatment, as well as the providers. We work hard assisting our veterans with establishing routines, engaging in their treatment, and integrating into the community. For many of our veterans, group therapy is what assists them in managing their day-to-day symptoms. And for some it’s the only form of social contact and social support they receive.”
Several veterans attend groups multiple days a week. One of the groups, which focuses on emotional response, has as many as a dozen participants in their weekly sessions. A few of the veterans in the program had been meeting together in person before the sessions moved to a virtual format. Several other veterans have joined since then and have worked to build rapport with the rest of the group. When asked about their reaction to moving to virtual meetings, one veteran joked “I am loving the virtual groups because I don’t have to leave my home, but at same time it’s a problem, because we are isolating.”
Grata believes the adjustment to the VVC appointments is gradually improving. “We have received a lot of positive feedback from both our veterans as well as the primary providers and prescribers. For the most part veterans have voiced being eager to attend groups in person again, however, they are grateful that they can attend groups over VVC. All of them have voiced fear that they would regress in their treatment if we were not providing the groups.”
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System will offer virtual mental health sessions for as long as the Veterans Health Administration continues to observe social distancing guidelines.
To request a virtual care appointment or to convert an in-person appointment to virtual care, call 702-791-9024. For Veterans in crisis, help is available at the Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, and press 1, or text 838255.