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To help her patients feel more connected even though they’re isolated at home, one clinical psychologist has developed a behavioral activation program with the help of telemedicine.

Maintaining physical distance is one of the most important things any of us can do right now to stop the spread of COVID-19. But research conducted after the 2002 SARS pandemic shows that social distancing and confinement can cause frustration, boredom and even depression. “That’s why the conversation has shifted from ‘social’ distancing to ‘physical’ distancing,” explains clinical psychologist Shahida Fareed, PsyD. “And knowing the difference can help improve our mental health during these trying times.”

Physical distancing puts the emphasis on remaining at least 6 feet away from others. However, with all the technology we have at our fingertips, it’s easy to stay socially connected — even if you’re across the globe. And it’s just as easy to connect with many healthcare providers through telemedicine.    

Mental health care through video or over the phone

“I work with my patients through videoconferencing or I speak to them by phone,” Dr. Fareed explains. “In some ways, the phone calls are better because many of my patients live in remote areas with weak Wi-Fi signals — they just don’t have the bandwidth.” Dr. Fareed begins every video session by assuring her patients that if they get cut off, she will call them back immediately. Their appointments go on as planned, but they happen over the phone. “Most patients are fine with it,” she says. “Some prefer the phone anyway because they don’t like seeing themselves on the screen.”

Behavioral action program fosters connection in times of isolation

To help her patients feel more connected even though they’re isolated at home, Dr. Fareed has developed a behavioral activation program for use during COVID-19. “Behavioral activation treatment helps people engage in enjoyable activities. It’s an approach that’s often used to lessen the effects of anxiety and depression and it also provides the sense of achievement,” Dr. Fareed explains. “I work with each patient to create a list of activities to do with others simultaneously but remotely. Monday might be a physical activity, Tuesday might involve cleaning or cooking, Wednesday might have them watching the same movie and so on. It’s a plan for staying positive — and feeling connected.”

Getting certified to provide care through telemedicine as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions began required providers to take an online course, go through technology training and complete a good deal of paperwork — all in one week. “The process hasn’t been without its challenges,” Dr. Fareed says. “But it has been worth it. Telemedicine has let me give my patients the care they need during this very trying time. 

“We’re figuring out how to make this work,” she adds. “And as I tell my patients, we’re all in this together.”

Immediate telemedicine appointments are available for evaluation and support from our behavioral health professionals. To schedule a telemedicine virtual visit or learn more, call 800-274-6401 or click here.

Shahida Fareed
Clinical psychologist Dr. Shahida Fareed sees patients virtually through Geisinger’s telemedicine program.

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