Q&A with Mental Health Practitioner Sarah Claire Smith

We chat with the mental health counselor about all things virtual therapy during the COVID-19 crisis

Photo by Jen Talesman

Therapists across the country are going digital to support their clients during these uncertain times and maintain safe social distancing. While daunting to some, virtual therapy is an essential resource for those who feel isolated, anxious, or simply need to connect with someone while quarantining at home.

PBI caught up with Sarah Claire Smith, a Palm Beach–based mental health counselor intern, for her take on virtual therapy, who it benefits (spoiler: everyone), getting help in the health crisis, and staying mindful and connected at home.

Note: If your therapist does not work through insurance or you have lost your coverage, you can speak with them about a sliding-scale payment system that works with your budget.


PBI: Over the past few weeks, as the health crisis has grown, have you seen an increase in requests for virtual therapy?

Smith: Yes. Part of that is just a necessity to transfer existing clients into virtual therapy, and I have also had some new clients reach out. The main thing we’re seeing is the transition; all of the clients that I had been seeing in person, we’re now going to adapt to the changing circumstances and try to do this virtually. In the last week, it doesn’t feel different, especially with the clients I’ve had before. We’re continuing to do the work we were doing when we were sitting across from each other. Most of my clients are millennials, so they’re so used to screens anyway. I do think that for some of my older clients, it’s a little less natural.

For the people in older demographics or who are new to therapy altogether, what would you tell them are the benefits of virtual therapy?

 I think there’s something that’s resistant in all of us to going to therapy because we don’t actually want to face ourselves at times. Sometimes we use that as an excuse. Once you jump over that barrier, [virtual therapy] is just as effective. I think it’s worth it. What I would say to any of my clients is, we’re all worth that space, even if that space is over the phone or through a computer screen. You still are worth doing it and pressing through the discomfort.

 Do you work with couples and counseling people through life transitions?

Yes, I do a lot of life transitions counseling, relationship coaching and counseling, and grief work. I’m also a trauma therapist, and the main modality that I use is EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which you can’t really do over a screen. We’re having to be creative because it’s very important that you’re in the same room with someone when you’re doing that kind of work. There’s a barrier there that I’m honoring. We are putting this on pause, and we’re going to do a little bit more talk therapy and prep for the trauma work.

This experience is going to leave an impression on all of us. Why should people seek therapeutic resources during the COVID-19 crisis?

 One of the main themes that comes up in every session is stress. We need support to grieve and to manage the stress of this changing environment. We are a culture that invites us to ignore, numb, or “pump up” stress, so we need tools and support to remain balanced, calm, and adaptive. I think that’s a big deal. Being attentive to the stress and learning how to manage it in healthy ways will keep us together. I think mental health support will help us get through this.

Do you think that consulting virtual therapy could offer people hope to get them through this?

Yes, absolutely. Get someone who is a third party to vent to, who can offer compassion and empathy, and remind [the client] what they are responsible for and in control of. If I can help people choose hope instead of stress, or at least hold the tension of both, then we can make it through this. Having a third party who is a skilled listener can definitely promote hope.

What if someone came to you and simply needed someone to talk to during times of isolation. Would you be open to consulting with them?

 Yes. I would say, “You’re wise and you’re brave. Let’s go.” Even if it’s not a long-term thing, people might just need support as they move through the next couple of weeks and need someone to hold space for them. I would commend those people highly.

I wrote a post called “Spring Cleaning” about the experience of being in your home a lot more than most of us usually are. I’m so busy and usually on the go, but I’ve been at home, so I deep cleaned my house. I’m noticing all of these things that I never have. I likened that to mental health. We’re sitting at home, we have more time on our hands, this is the perfect opportunity to look deeper at ourselves and attend to the things that maybe time, stress, or pressures of the outside world haven’t allowed us to. Call a therapist and utilize this time; make it worthwhile. If we can use this to better ourselves and grow stronger as a human race instead of getting taken down by the stress of it all, it would be a good thing.

Smith’s Mindfulness Tips:

  1. Get outside. The weather in Florida allows us to sit outdoors, absorb vitamin D, and feel the wind and sun on our skin.
  2. Download a guided meditation app. Calm, Waking Up, and Headspace are great.
  3. Keep a daily stream of consciousness journal about how you’re feeling.
  4. Check in with the people you love often. Plan a Zoom “meeting” or call loved ones to simply ask, “How are you doing?”

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