Credit: paige vickers

In an age where one’s apartment doubles as an office, therapy patients throughout the city have similarly brought treatment into the home via virtual counseling.

Albany Park resident Frankie Pedersen began seeing a therapist for the first time since college earlier this year due to stress from the pandemic. She says that the process of getting comfortable with a new therapist in a virtual setting didn’t happen overnight.

“That was the biggest challenge, just getting comfortable meeting someone for the first time on FaceTime,” she says. “I feel like getting used to a therapist, even in person, it takes time and it’s harder. But I feel like there was such a disconnect at first because I think meeting people through a virtual setting, especially someone who you’re going to be very honest with, I think it’s hard to do online. I feel like [it’s] such a different energy when you meet someone in person.”

For Madi Ellis of Logan Square, transitioning from the more neutral setting of her therapist’s office to her home has proved the most difficult.

“I’ve been living in my tiny apartment and it’s just pure chaos,” she says. “So I sort of have to try to block out everything that’s happening. And I see my clothes on the floor, I see pictures of friends on the wall, and these are things I have to really try to block out and focus on what I’m feeling . . . but definitely for me, it’s [a] distraction. And I have two cats and I love them, but they’re idiots and they meow and they fight.”

Despite the challenges associated with adapting to virtual counseling, some have remarked that this new model is far more convenient than commuting to an office. AJ Abelman of Avondale says that getting ready for in-person sessions can take between two and three hours, with driving and finding parking taking up much of her time.

“Instead [at home], ten minutes beforehand, I stop doing whatever I’m working [on] so I can get myself in a clear headspace and then I log on, and then when it’s over I go back to work,” she says. “So, I think that that’s been hugely beneficial. It’s not as much of a time commitment.”

Leo Loukas, owner of Chicago Therapy Solutions, is of the belief that in-person therapy is the “pinnacle” of treatment in terms of establishing a connection. However, he finds that virtual counseling can be comparable in terms of quality.

“Because of where technology is today, I would say we are in a really good position to maintain something very close to the in-person experience,” he says. “So the technology piece of being able to connect with your client works so well, whether it’s Zoom or FaceTime, whatever your mode is, even over the phone, it still works.”

In addition to formal counseling, patients throughout the city have prioritized different methods of self-care to combat the stress of an ever-turbulent time. Kat Sullivan of Wicker Park has utilized cooking and exercise as a means of unplugging from constant Zoom meetings.

“It gets a little, not just physically exhausting, but I think it can be emotionally taxing to just be sitting in the same place for hours if you have back-to-back meetings,” she says. “So I make sure that I step away for at least an hour, collectively, every day. Maybe it’s a walk, maybe it’s, you know, I call friends on the phone a lot, or, you know, maybe it’s just like sneaking in like a 20- to 30-minute workout.”

For Pedersen, self-care includes “taking time for [herself]” and sorting through issues previously left “on the backburner.”

“We have a lot of time to work on ourselves right now,” she says. “And I think it can be like incredibly grounding because things are crazy right now.”

Despite the adjustments needed to adapt to virtual counseling, they are ultimately necessary for an increasingly digital age.

“I also think that it’s good that we kind of pushed a lot of counselors into the modern age,” Loukas says. “Because I think so often counselors are kind of wired so rigid in some of their beliefs about the way we have to provide services. And I think being adaptive about it is really important and incredibly useful to our clients.”   v