Services Update and Covid-19: March 2022

Health and Safety with Behaviour Support and Counselling

Australians have an odd, confused, and mixed attitude to health precautions. We see this mostly because the message from government remains clouded; and without speaking with one voice the messaging will never be clear.

Our service however is very clear in our approach. At this turn where the governments are easing mandatory restrictions like mask wearing, these so-called restrictions are in fact natural and science-based precautions. As such restrictions ease, they are now effectively voluntary practices. In concert with the Australian Medical Association, we continue to caution people to wear masks particularly in situations where precaution is warranted.

Under NDIS quality standards, and our internal ATS policies for risk management, covid-19, and infection management, as an allied health practice we have decided to maintain mask wearing for the foreseeable future when and if we have in-person contact with patients. As an added precaution for our service our staff will maintain mask wearing when out in the community. Under our policies and given our risk management assessments, we will remain telehealth online for the foreseeable future.

We all have lived with the pandemic long enough to realise the long-view takes precedence. This means that right now, as Australia heads into winter and flu season, that precautions are just as valid even while health authorities express that the Omicron Variant has resulted in reduced risk. But for the people we serve any additional risk like Covid-19 infection is still risk and can at times and for vulnerable populations result in major health complications.

Telehealth Behaviour Support and Counselling

Our experience and our client’s experience is rated as extremely positive delivering and receiving senior specialist behaviour support and counselling therapies via online using the now common range of communications tools in telehealth video, audio, text, email, pre-recorded video, messaging systems and various applications. We are most recently exploring virtual gaming environments to assist working with certain children with Autism.

Over the past few years we have advanced leadership in telehealth behaviour support and counselling psychotherapies by publishing a brief book on the subject, and we worked in collaboration with the then very rare and new telehealth specialists at the national level. As long time senior specialists in distance education and counselling therapist training at the university level, we have been well placed to provide a level of comfort and assurance to our clients.

Outcome studies on telehealth consistently show that like all therapies, the key factor is the client’s decision to engage with the mode and method of therapy. Where the clients wants to engage therapy, the outcomes are useful and positive.

As we continue to review the research, we see an overall trend since the 1940s in fact. Telehealth is a pragmatic mode of therapy provision that is accepted as helpful in cases where the mode of communication is used effectively. Not all therapists will have these skills to apply the mode of telehealth to individual case needs. Where therapists lack skills in effectively applying technology within cases, the outcomes are usually not as helpful and patient satisfaction ratings drop.

Participants with severe communication disabilities or who do not wish to engage a therapist directly via video communications are often helped by their family or staff or advocates to engage a specialist therapy service like ATS. Just because a person cannot directly engage video does not mean they cannot access telehealth assessment and treatment. Indirect assistance with the help of family or staff provides video links via hand-held devices, smartphones, Ipads, laptops, or other means.

Having recently achieved independent professional audit assessment under NDIS standards as a telehealth service, and now having worked in a focused manner with these modes of service for some time, we have concluded that during our service provisions both the quantity of data reviewed and quality of assessments and treatments has increased when compared to in-person services.

The key reason for this outcome is that telehealth clients “hold their therapist in their hands” and make therapy part of their everyday life. This has a flow-on effect that when we address the client’s concerns, and when we teach clients new skills and capacities in daily life, they can apply the solutions offered and their new skills and therapy outcomes are more robust and long-lasting. Our therapy assessments and support plans are also more highly tailored to individual wants and needs, and our clinical reports directly reflect the reality of our patients and contribute significant insights to NDIS Plan reviews, Mental Health and Community Treatment reviews, and other kinds of disability and mental health reviews. For these reasons our reports have become sought after by other therapists and specialists including routinely with GPs and Psychiatrists.

Unlike in-person visits where people are tired and stressed from travel, are anxious socially, and where observations are limited to the brief moment that is shared, telehealth provides increased time for visits, discussions, sharing information, and sharing of pre-recorded video done by clients of behaviours of concern when these are actually happening.

Celebrating a First Birthday: Andy Grace

You will have seen the header picture of Andy which is more recent. Below Andy shares his photo of some time ago as a younger pup. Andy is a Maltese-Shih Tzu cross who came to us during a health crisis that he managed to overcome. Andy has beautiful blue eyes that remain quite striking.

While still being quite young to engage with any lengthy visits, Andy briefly attends several of our clients during telehealth sessions and provides a lovely presence. Andy is sometimes accompanied by companions Tessa who is a Maltese, and Bugzie who is a Long Hair Jack. However, the others are senior pups at this stage so are retired from service.

War and Trauma: Telehealth with Anxiety and Stress

We have also continued our exploration of different modes of therapy via telehealth with great success in a number of areas. Certain clients have explored use of art therapy and clay-work at home while in telehealth visits in our studio with our therapist-ceramic-artist who is also a behaviour specialist and psychotherapist. Participants collect resources at home to use during sessions, and share their work and have valuable therapeutic discussions with their therapist online.

Likewise, the use of symbol-work has continued to be popular where therapists engage with children and adults by using playful and serious objects-as-symbols of real-life issues, skills, and capacities. Clients share symbols they have in their daily life, and make connections with the issues and goals they seek to work on in therapy.

Often symbol-work deepens and makes concrete the issues we face in life, and provides touch stones that move forward within layers of metaphor, meaning, intention, and that assist the setting of goals, and seeing progress over time. Again, telehealth brings therapy into real life instead of remaining seconded to an office and clinic – so we find that when clients share the symbols that mean something to them in everyday life these linkages enhance and strengthen their therapeutic goals.

As the war happening in northern Europe this past week escalates, and involves so many countries around the world, and is so clearly televised for all to see; we again pause and reflect that many of our participants are already in trauma-recovery-mode from the pandemic.

Clients are already expressing and will continue to express feeling the stress and anxiety of war very deeply. As this situation evolves we urge people to pace yourself and to be aware of your loved ones and other’s mental and emotional health. Check in with each other. Talk things through. And seek out help and therapy when needed.

While we could easily continue our update with other news we will keep this edition brief. Please take care and find peace in these very troubled times.

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