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Long Island counseling groups offer remote services for their patients

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In the weeks since all “non-essential” businesses in New York state were closed until at least April 30 because of the coronavirus pandemic, mental health organizations have had to adjust the way they offer treatment while also ensuring that their patients know that help is available.

Tempo Group, which offers drug and alcohol abuse and addiction programs for youths, teens and adults, has had its counselors speaking with patients by phone and the videoconferencing platform Zoom. “

I think the remote sessions have gone OK so far,” said Bob Meislin, the director of Tempo’s Merrick office. “It’s never going to be as good as in-person sessions, but I haven’t missed any individual sessions so far.” Tempo has been based in Woodmere for 51 years.

The New Horizon Counseling Center, in Valley Stream, is also treating people remotely. Chief Executive Officer Herrick Lipton said his professionals are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to those who need to talk.

“We’ve transferred our operations from being outpatient clinics to being fully telephonic so we can provide services to anyone that needs our help,” Lipton said. “Everybody is feeling the anxiety and sense of being locked in their homes. We want everyone to know that we’re here for them.”

For those who are struggling, Lipton added, “The best advice I would say to those is to take things day by day, eat healthy, get fresh air and get enough rest. It’s also important to make sure you’re spending time with your family.”

Family time may be a good thing, but couples with a history of domestic violence can be at risk for further incidents. The state’s Office of Addiction Services and Supports tweeted on April 1 that its hotline, (877) 846-369, is open for those dealing with domestic violence.

“Drug/alcohol use does not cause domestic violence, but it can escalate an already dangerous situation,” the tweet read. “If you or a loved one are in an abusive situation and need help, New York State is here for you.”

Though schools, too, are closed, colleges such as Adelphi University have made mental health services available to students. “The coronavirus is on everyone’s minds and has exacerbated some of the underlying reasons students sought counseling in the first place,” said Dr. Josh Altman, associate director of Adelphi’s Student Counseling Center. “Some students are stressed about working remotely for school, or they feel disconnected with peers or are having relationship issues. Some are happy to be home, but others may not want to be home.”

Meislin highlighted some important tips for those struggling with mental health challenges such as planning, exercise, routine, meditation and staying connected. “Just because you’re feeling isolated, it doesn’t mean you have to be alone,” he said. “It’s important to stay active as well. I walk around my office just to get some exercise in.”

He added that he was concerned about people with current or previous substance abuse issues. “Those who struggle with addiction tend to isolate, and now they’re being coached to isolate, which complicates things,” he said. “I encourage friends and family of those who have an addiction to reach out to them more than they usually do.”

Another concern for Meislin is that people who lose friends or loved ones to the virus may experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Religious rituals around loss are for the survivors, and we don’t have them right now,” he said. “There are no funerals with friends and family, since you can’t gather. You can’t mourn regularly.” 

Dr. Cathy Carballeira, Tempo’s coordinator of educational services, said that feeling anxiety is normal. “The most important thing to realize is what behavior is normal — everybody is feeling worried,” she said. “When it becomes excessive worry and it starts interfering with sleep and health, that’s when it becomes an issue.”

Carballeira added that finding a way to help others can improve your outlook. “Some ways to help others include food shopping for others or checking in on family members,” she said. “Reaching out to elderly people also can make us feel better. Do a ‘gratitude journal’ where, as a family, you can write down what you’re grateful for.”

For Carballeira, taking things day by day is imperative. “An important thing to recognize is that this is not going to go away tomorrow,” she said. “If things become too stressful and you have thoughts of self-harm, there’s help out there. You are not alone.”