Edited by Jill Wright,
Increasing fears about the spread of Coronavirus (or COVID-19 as it's now designated), can have a dual effect. As I discovered this morning, when I went to the local pharmacy to pick up a prescription, in some cases it causes significant anxiety that manifests in different ways. One effect was evident from a casual inspection of the pharmacy shelves: hand sanitisers, antiseptic wipes, latex gloves and face masks were completely sold out.
However much authorities might try to calm people's nerves and warn against such reactions as wearing face masks in public and panic buying, the prospect of catching a potentially fatal disease can spark visceral fear and irrational responses.
At the same time, however, a health crisis like this can dissuade people from seeking professional help. They might neglect the need for treatment of physical and mental health conditions, perhaps because they don't want to take the risk of infection from other patients in a doctor's waiting room for instance, or for that matter, a psychologist's waiting room.
At Psychology Melbourne, we've been tracking developments since the outbreak first came to public attention, following Australian health advisories and other expert advice on personal responses to COVID-19 and taking appropriate precautions in the best interests of both clients and our staff.
Our receptionists communicate with clients at booking time to make sure that those with coughs and sneezes follow health protocols and aren't a risk to other clients.
For those who still have concerns, however, we also offer remote telephone and video sessions so that they can have a live session with one of our psychologists from the security of their home, office, or vehicle. We've even had sessions with clients calling in from overseas.
Psychology Melbourne has been a leader in the field of online counselling for several years, including a two-year period in which we delivered sessions to clients in Gladstone, in rural Queensland, for Medibank Private and Telstra Health. That service required us to develop significant in-house expertise in the technology and clinical demands of remote practice, and was the basis for a detailed research project. It showed that the outcomes of these remote sessions were just as effective as face-to-face sessions.