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Stories of Resilience: Performing Outpatient Therapy from a distance

When Outpatient Therapy Team Leader Berti Jackson-Babel visualizes the current situation in our community amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, she see a ride on roaring rapids.

“The instinct is to flail to try to stay above water,” she explained. However, “that ends up exhausting us and gives us more risk to drown … sometimes the best thing for us to do is to float and know that floating is what’s going to keep us safe.”

When physical distancing recommendations came to St. Louis in late March, Places for People’s Outpatient Therapy program changed its vessel of choice to deliver services, transitioning from in-person therapy sessions to remote sessions.

When being in the same room was no longer a possibility, the phone became the first source of connection for sessions.

Moving to a phone-based telehealth system was an adjustment, Jackson-Babel said. “So much of our communication is nonverbal. So people, especially if you’re not doing video sessions, if you’re just, you know, doing phone sessions, there’s a lot of nuances that are that you don’t catch,” she said. “I’ve also really encouraged myself and my staff to accept that therapy is not going to look the way it looked before and that’s okay.”

Therapists have added more visual options, using zoom or FaceTime for sessions.

“All the therapists have really gone above and beyond to change their strategies and support folks in really creative ways,” Outpatient Therapy Program Manager Meagan Doty said.

Danielle Kimbrel, an outpatient therapist who earned her master’s degree from UMSL last May and started with PFP in November, recalls a time when she text messages to help someone work through a panic attack. “We normally would recite song lyrics to each other and try and name every lyric in the song,” she said. Conducting the grounding exercise over text worked, and the panic attack passed.

“My clients are resilient. I see it. I hear it in their voices. I see it in their face. I read it in their treatment plans every day,” she said.

Doty echoed that sentiment. “It’s been really neat to see our person served, utilizing the skills that they’re learning,” she said. “They’re finding community resources and they’re being kind of beacons of hope in their own community. I spoke with one of my personal therapy clients the other day, and she was saying that it’s giving her a lot of purpose and meaning to be the person in her apartment complex that passes out extra toilet paper or puts a sign in or window that says don’t lose hope.”

The Outpatient Therapy program continues to accept new clients through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re really trying to do is make sure that we’re as available as possible to get people the support that they need,” Jackson-Babel said. The intake process and sessions will be conducted over the phone. If a person needs in-person services, they can be placed on a wait list until the program’s offices are reopened. If you are interested in learning more about Places for People’s Outpatient Therapy services, call 314-615-9105, ext. 402.