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CAPS switches to telehealth appointments in response to coronavirus pandemic

EN Photo by Raphaella Matta. A photo of the new CAPS building on FGCU’s campus. The CAPS’ space in Howard Hall was smaller, so new people could not be hired until recently.

With the many challenges that the COVID-19 crisis has thrown at students, Elyssa Morataya is thankful that continuing her sessions with CAPS was not one of them.
“Overall, it’s been a positive experience,” said Morataya. “I’m lucky that my roommates respect me and support my mental health. I’m able to focus on myself and work through everything that happens as a result of the pandemic.”
Morataya was concerned about still receiving therapy through FGCU’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) when it was announced classes would switch to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester. 
CAPS said it would follow FGCU’s lead in taking a virtual approach to learning and began to offer therapy sessions through telehealth appointments in mid-March. Students who sign a consent form would be able to schedule online therapy meetings.
Morataya signed the form initially but was unsure if she wanted to follow through with her decision.
“I was actually really nervous and considered canceling my first telehealth session,” said Morataya. “I felt unsure that I wanted to continue using a service in a way I wasn’t used to, and if it was still going to help me in the same way.”
Once she went through with the first session, however, Morataya said she felt a lot better about using the technology and felt that it is a practical solution to the current situation. 
CAPS Clinical Director and Group Program Coordinator, Dr. Michael Ghali, wants students to remember to take care of themselves as they adjust to a new routine.
“We hope that we can all work together with patience and flexibility as we collectively adjust to our current situation,” said Ghali. “Mental health is just as important during this time, and we will continue to do our best to meet student needs as effectively and efficiently as we can.”
The online software is called TAO Connect Inc. and is accessible through the video conferencing app, Zoom.
CAPS has been doing telehealth sessions through TAO for the past several years, but this is the first time it’s been used with students on a large scale.
“There has been research that has shown that telehealth is as effective as in-person therapy,” said CAPS Training Director, Dr. Laura Wright. “There are also many private practices that are exclusively remote therapy. Some may prefer face-to-face, but we do encourage everyone to give it a try before deciding.”
Students that are prescribed medication through the CAPS psychiatrist also have the option to take part in telehealth appointments. Katie Driscoll is one of those students.
“I prefer in-person meetings for [medication] refills because they feel more official, and phone calls stress me out a little more,” said Driscoll.
She also mentioned her worries about the level of confidentiality through phone calls or virtual meetings on Zoom.
The level of privacy is also a concern for Darian Charbonneau.
“I think virtual therapy is a valid option for most students, but I just don’t feel comfortable enough to share my problems over the phone,” said Charbonneau. “It’s more of a concern with confidentiality through using the app. I prefer a conversation in person.”
Charbonneau never scheduled another meeting after FGCU switched to remote instruction and decided to discontinue his therapy sessions. 
He said he plans to return to CAPS in the fall semester when meetings are no longer online.
CAPS said it understands and respects each student’s individual decision of continuing or discontinuing treatment at this time.
CAPS is still accepting new students through their telephone line, but it plans to continue to rely on telehealth therapy throughout the remainder of the spring semester.
“Remember to check-in with yourself every day,” Ghali said. “Take time to breathe and engage in whatever kind of self care works for you.”

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