She has my back: Building therapeutic rapport through virtual care

Jade Nauss and Sarah Clarke, Nova Scotia Health social worker and clinical therapist
Jade Nauss and Sarah Clarke, Nova Scotia Health social worker and clinical therapist.

Mental health challenges have materialized or worsened for many since the onset of COVID-19. Feelings of anxiety, loneliness and uncertainty have attributed to a shift in our baseline mental state.  Throughout the pandemic, the accelerated adoption of virtual care is one solution that has been instrumental in supporting people in need.

 “It felt like the little mosquito in my mind was just getting a bit louder,” said Jade Nauss who sportively refers to her generalized anxiety disorder as “Tito,” inspired by the character “The Anxiety Mosquito,” representing anxiety in humans in the hit animated show “Big Mouth.” Nauss lives in Halifax and enjoys hanging out with friends, snuggling with her cats, relaxing with Netflix and trying new local ciders at patios on the weekends.

It was during the pandemic that Nauss began individual and group therapy through virtual care services for support.

“I think the main trigger for me was a death in the family,” shared Nauss. “This loss was especially difficult because of the pandemic. It felt like my anxiety issues were exacerbated due to the combination of family trauma, loss and COVID. It came to a point where I knew I needed some help.”

In Nova Scotia, health care providers can connect with people remotely using approved virtual care technologies. One such example is Zoom for Healthcare. Zoom is a web-based virtual care technology (video, audio and chat) that enables secure remote communication, including the sharing of personal health information, between colleagues, patients, and their circle of care from any location using an internet or cellular connection.

When Nauss spoke to a mental health and addiction clinician, she was asked whether she would be interested in trying virtual care.

“An advantage to virtual care was that I wouldn’t need to see people face-to-face, as we were at a phase in the pandemic where I was limiting my close contacts. I also don’t drive, so the fact that I didn’t need to take the bus or get a ride from someone was a game-changer,” said Nauss.

Nauss' cat, Abby.

Shortly after accepting virtual care, Nauss was connected to social worker and clinical therapist, Sarah Clarke. After their initial meeting, Nauss worked with Clarke in group therapy as well as one-on-one therapy, all through virtual care with Nauss in the comfort of her own home with her cat, even taking some appointments from her phone in her backyard. 

Clarke was the first social worker on her community team to be moved to remote work in March 2020. As an early adopter of virtual care, Clarke has seen its benefits and efficacy in spades over the past two years. Clarke currently sees all of her clients through virtual care technology.

“One of my favourite aspects of virtual care is that it has reconnected me to my roots as a social worker. Having access to care for people in their homes and having a more intimate look at what their life is like gives me a better understanding of their situation,” said Clarke. “In recent years as a clinical therapist before COVID, I was primarily working in an office where clients would come for their appointments, so I was missing that element of meeting clients’ pets, seeing their holiday decorations, having their kids pop in and out of the room – it’s what gives my work that meaningful human connection that I love. Zoom has brought that back into my practice.”

Clarke has also taken advantage of increased training opportunities thanks to virtual care.

“I was able to receive cognitive behavioral, evidence-based training with the applicable supervision, all through Zoom,” said Clarke. “A course that would have normally required a five-day trip was delivered virtually so that myself and several other clinicians could receive the training much more quickly and efficiently without the need for travel.”

With Clarke and Nauss located in different parts of the province, they would have probably never met if it wasn’t for virtual care. Both are grateful that virtual care connected them because they have built a very strong therapeutic rapport, an essential part of a healthy therapist-client relationship where the client feels supported and the therapist feels trusted.

“I feel like she has my back – like she really ‘gets me’ and that can be hard to find,” shared Nauss.

Before the more widespread adoption of virtual care, there was speculation that this kind of strong rapport would be more difficult to build virtually but stories like this prove that the opposite can be true.

Nova Scotia Health’s virtual care services team has trained over 5,000 providers in the use of Zoom and the province is rolling out a multi-year virtual care expansion strategy as part of the Action for Health plan. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of this technology with approximately 800,000 Zoom clinical meetings to date. Nova Scotians will continue to benefit from virtual care, this is only the beginning.