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Mental health counseling through Covid

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Mental health experts and organizations have had to adjust to the issues their patients face and the ways in which they treat them during the coronavirus pandemic.

Counselors for the Tempo Group, which offers drug and alcohol abuse and addiction programs for youths, teens and adults, have returned to the nonprofit’s three offices in Nassau County. They have been consulting with patients by phone and Zoom since March.

“I come into the office a couple of times a week and meet with my patients remotely,” said Bob Meislin, the director of Tempo’s Merrick office. “It’s never going to be as good as in-person sessions for both the patient and the counselor, but you find a way to make it work.” Tempo has been headquartered in Woodmere for 51 years. The third office is in Syosset.

Meislin said that patients’ concerns have shifted from depression to anxiety as the pandemic drags on. “Most people have been talking about two predominant themes to me,” he said. “One is people wondering when this pandemic is going to end, and the other is the election bringing a lot of stress and anxiety to people on both sides of the political aisle.”

Dr. Cathy Carballeira, Tempo’s coordinator of educational services, said that anxiety is normal during the pandemic. “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.”

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.”

Many counselors, like Meislin, have adjusted to the pandemic by offering patients options on how they can meet. “Tempo is doing everything remotely, but for my private practice, I’ve given my patients three options,” he said. “The first is talking over the phone or Zoom, the second is we have a session sitting in our cars in my driveway, and the third way I was doing it was, I would have the patient bring a beach chair and we would keep distance but have a session in the backyard under my deck.”

The Long Island Crisis Center, another nonprofit, based in Bellmore, offers suicide and crisis counseling 24 hours a day. Executive Director Theresa Buhse said that roughly 80 percent of the center’s calls specifically mention Covid-19 and reasons why patients are unable to attend their usual support groups. About 30 percent of the center’s calls deal with drugs and alcohol.

Some callers say they are sequestered with their families and are not comfortable going out because they are at a higher risk of contracting the virus, Buhse said. Some don’t like wearing masks, and others say they don’t think the virtual meetings aren’t as helpful as in-person counseling. “Although it feels like this has been going on forever, it hasn’t,” Buhse said. “There’s progress being made every day. It’s not easy, but we try to help them see what they could do and what they do have.”

Support groups are still available virtually, and there are ways for people to recover at home, Buhse said. “Just connecting with another human is helpful, especially for people who live on their own,” she said. “And if someone does need therapy or medication, there are places that are open.”

Meislin said that anyone who has a question about seeking treatment should not hesitate to reach out. “Tempo is open and we’re here to help, as are other places,” he said. “If you have an issue, just pick up the phone. You don’t have to commit to meetings. We’re here to help.”