CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – In 2020, when the pandemic hit, more people began seeking therapy for mental health issues, and therapists knew a virtual option was on the horizon.

“About three percent of our sessions were held virtually,” said Courtney Saunders, a clinical director with Thriveworks. “And then the global pandemic happened, and 100% of our sessions were held virtually.”

Two years later and virtual counseling is still a popular choice. Counselors working at Thriveworks Counseling, and Presbyterian Psychological Services, in South Park say 60 percent of clients prefer virtual meetings.

With virtual counseling, it’s easy to grab a phone, computer, or tablet, but does receiving help via a screen accomplish the same thing?

“I don’t know if it is the wave of the future,” adds Daniel Miles, a licensed mental health counselor at Presby Psych. “This is here to stay, and virtual is going to be part of the landscape of our lives. I think moving forward.”

Mental health counselor Daniel Miles says he does both to accommodate clients.

“Do you prefer in-person or virtual counseling?” is the first question he asks before taking on a new client. 

He prefers in-person.

“For me, that is a big part of the therapeutic process when connecting with my clients,” Miles continued. “Or with my therapist when I am the client. That’s an important part of how I feel that human connection.”

“It just so happened for me that I reached out for therapy while the pandemic was in full swing,” says Dulani Moore, a small business owner. “So I had no choice but to do it virtually.”

Moore says running a business and other social issues during the pandemic, like the murder of George Floyd, led him to his current counselor. 

It’s a big step because, according to the CDC, African Americans are less likely to seek counseling. Twenty-five percent of Black people seek mental health treatment when needed, compared to 40 percent of white people.

Virtual therapy was a way to get help in a community, often criticizing others for seeking help.

“The idea that we can kind of close ourselves in a room or go in our car and be able to talk to somebody does open up opportunities to try that out and to kind of get our feet wet in it,” said Moore.

“When I hear a person mention that they are first of all receiving therapy, there is this sense of appreciation of hearing that,” added Dee-Dee Blackman, a mental health advocate.

Blackman says virtual appointments fit her schedule, and like Moore, it opened up a conversation many were afraid to have.

“I have other family members who are also receiving virtual support,” said Blackman. “So having that connection is convenient as well. I’m grateful for that convenience.”

With everything, there are pros and cons. Connection issues, loss of eye contact, and people getting easily distracted. But if a person is in a remote location or maybe searching out a specialist, not in their immediate area.

Virtual has been vital.

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“It puts therapy in every single person’s home who wanted it, and I think that is going to continue,” says Saunders.

Clinicians are also continuing with caution; all say virtual doesn’t work for everyone.

“Substance abuse is an easy one to pick on,” adds Miles. “But it could be a number of things, it could be depression, it could be anxiety, it could be PTSD.”

Counselors say they have done like most and pivoted. They know there is value in virtual and will continue to give people the best option possible.

“I think that it’s a great option for people to be able to have so that it doesn’t feel like their lives are being put on display in any kind of way,” says Moore. “They can just go to a private space.”

“What helps people heal is their desire to show up and do the work,” added Miles. “If they’re signing on virtually because they want to do the work, we can find a way to do that work.”

Clinicians say finding a way to do the work is key, and those going to therapy virtually say they would stop going if the option was no longer available. Something healthcare workers say they don’t want.