Mental health and addiction issues are serious business these days. Time and location should not stand in the way of people receiving the quality treatment they need This is why Recovery Ways, Salt Lake City’s premier dual-diagnosis addiction treatment center, is all about virtual treatment. Virtual treatment means that anyone in need of care can access therapy and counseling no matter where they are in the world…as long as they’ve got wi-fi or a cell signal. As our lives become more hectic, and the world grows increasingly more connected, it’s no surprise that behavioral healthcare providers are utilizing technology to connect with patients on their terms and on their schedules. One of these providers is Heather LeGuilloux. Heather is a Registered Clinical Counselor who works with individuals and couples through the medium of online counseling, specifically chat and video. She’s also a pretty awesome mental health blogger providing tips on managing stress, anxiety, life transitions and more! Recovery Ways was able to catch up with Heather and ask her a few questions about her practice and how virtual and online treatment is changing the way people get help.
What is your passion for this industry and how/why did you get into providing virtual mental health treatment? Thank you for allowing me to share about myself and my online therapy practice, I’m delighted to be here. 🙂 In terms of my passion for the helping field, I have always had an innate ability to connect with others on an emotional level and I would consider myself somewhat of an empath; an individual who has the capacity to intuitively feel other people’s emotions and reflect this understanding back to them. Having this natural empathetic ability has allowed my career path to unfold almost seamlessly in front of me, as psychology and counselling courses in university were of great interest to me. Learning about the underlying causes of an individual’s behaviour and their accompanying thought process was fascinating to me, but my true passion emerged once I became a counselling intern and began connecting with clients in the therapy room. I first started to provide virtual counselling services through an organization that offered chat counselling (which refers to synchronous texting between client and therapist in real-time). I found this medium challenging to master at first, as I had been educated and worked as a face-to-face counsellor prior to this. I quickly realized that online therapy required a vastly different approach and skillset compared to traditional forms of therapy. I also discovered that online counselling opened up many new opportunities to connect with clients in meaningful and unfiltered ways (clients seem to share more about themselves and their concerns using online communication). I have found that what can be uncovered in two to three face-to-face sessions can be unearthed in just one session using online therapy, which is quite incredible!
How do you go about building client rapport providing therapy through this medium and not having direct contact? Studies show that relationship between the client and therapist is one of the leading indicators for success. Do you agree with that and how does it affect your practice? I completely agree that the professional relationship that is formed between a client and a therapist is extremely important for predicting the outcome of therapy. I have found that a strong therapeutic alliance developed through online therapy has the potential to take longer, depending on several factors. For example, the use of video during an online therapy session can mostly mimic the typical conditions of a face-to-face interaction, including providing cues related to body language, eye contact, posture, and a general sense of the emotional state of the client. During chat therapy, rapport with clients can take longer to develop as it can be more difficult and requires more creative ways in order to fully convey empathy towards the client and their situation. It can also take more time to fully uncover a client’s underlying reason for seeking therapy, as this is sometimes not the first concern brought to the therapy session. I find that being more transparent and open with my own emotional frame of reference can help to solidify the connection with a client and in turn allows the client to share more openly as therapy progresses.
Why did you start providing services in this treatment niche? What type of feedback to you receive from clients that were previously in a traditional therapy setting and are now virtual? After working with organizations that provide online therapy to clients, I decided to continue providing this form of service through my own online therapy practice. This decision was based on several factors, including being able to work from a home office which provides greater work-life balance for myself as a practitioner, as well as being able to offer lower rates to clients as my general overhead costs are lower. I also really enjoy being my own boss and I find that it suits my personality quite well, as I have an internal motivation and is required by entrepreneurs working outside a typical office setting. I also appreciate the ability to connect with clients who may not have the time or ability to travel to a traditional office setting, including those living in rural or remote communities, and those who are experiencing a disability whether it be physical or mental, that could prevent them from having support. The feedback I have received from clients who have made the switch to virtual therapy has been mixed, and rightfully so. Online counseling may not suit some individuals who prefer traditional, face-to-face therapy, or who are unfamiliar with using online avenues for communication. Other clients have found it to be just as helpful as face-to-face in terms of therapy outcomes, while others have shared their preference for virtual therapy as it allows for an investment in their emotional well-being without the typical obstacles of the time, travel, and sometimes anxiety that can accompany visiting a therapy office. I also believe that for some individuals, accessing therapy online initially can provide the stepping stones to receiving support from a face-to-face therapist or from other professionals, and can help to build a strong network of support for an individual.
What is the ideal client for your services? A client who is reaching out for therapy on their own, rather than being mandated by others, and who is ready to begin exploring their concerns in an open and engaging way using a virtual medium, would be best suited for online therapy services. In my own practice, I work with adults who primarily connect for support with mental health concerns, or issues relating to a relationship in their life. Often times, I find that clients may access therapy for a particular concern, and through questioning and the in-depth exploration that accompanies therapy, discover that their issues may stem from particular concerns from their past, or are connected to people or situations in their present. I ensure that I validate a client’s willingness to share their concerns with me, as it’s often not a walk-in-the park to share your concerns with others! Therapy can be a lot of work, but the outcomes or ‘ah-ha’ moments I have witnessed clients make during or between sessions are inspiring to say the least. If you are in need virtual intensive outpatient (V-IOP) treatment for addiction and mental health issues, Recovery Ways may be able to help.
Is there a client demographic that tends to thrive in this setting? I have worked with young people via virtual therapy sessions in the past and it’s undeniable to see that a young population will choose to connect through this type of service more easily and more frequently compared with face-to-face support if the service exists and is easily accessible to them. I have also noticed a large proportion of my online clients are seeking support for symptoms of anxiety, ranging from mild to severe. Individuals who experience social anxiety (perceived judgment from others in social settings) may find it difficult or even impossible to access traditional forms of therapy. Online counselling opens up the possibility of accessing support in a way that feels much safer, especially for clients who may be having difficulty even stepping outside of their home. I have found that most of my clients will discuss some level of anxiety at some point during our therapy work together, and so I have discussed more about this mental health concern on my blog and converted these posts into a free eBook for anyone who may want to learn more about this mental health condition. The goal of my blog and free resources is to provide individuals with easily understood information (without too much medical jargon) about mental health concerns and options for support – as many mental health concerns are treatable. If I can empower individuals to take charge of their own self-care and develop strategies that can enhance their well-being, or prevent mental health symptoms from becoming unmanageable, I feel like I am making a positive difference in the world. It’s also important for me to share with others that there are supports available, even when it feels like they are alone or unable to cope on their own.
What would you say to someone who is considering this approach to therapy? I would encourage anyone is has been considering online counseling to try it out – many online therapists (including myself) offer a free consultation, or a reduced fee for the initial session, so that you can get a sense how this form of therapy may suit you and your lifestyle. Some individuals I have worked in the past with were initially unsure about accessing therapy online or had questions about the technical or confidential nature of virtual therapy, and that’s totally okay! I always encourage my clients to ask any questions they may have on their mind, especially if it can help to ease their concerns so that their therapeutic work can begin. I welcome any questions that readers have in particular about online counseling or my practice in general. Thank you so much for featuring me on your blog!
More About Heather LeGuilloux. Heather LeGuilloux obtained her Master of Counseling from the University of Queensland in Australia in 2010 and now lives in BC, Canada. She is a Registered Clinical Counselor who holds association membership with the BCACC . Heather works with individuals and couples through the medium of online counseling and shares her knowledge about mental health and wellness through her blog. Follow Heather… http://heatherleguilloux.ca http://pinterest.com/hleguilloux http://twitter.com/hleguilloux http://facebook.com/heatherleguilloux http://instagram.com/heather.leguilloux