September 19, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed so many parts of life, and that’s especially true for mental health care.

First, the bad news: The pandemic gave a big push to what is now a full-on mental health crisis, with a stunning 25 percent increase in depression across the globe in just 2 years, according to the World Health Organization, and worrying trends in areas like suicidality, addiction, anxiety, access to care, and more. 

Now for some good news: A pandemic silver lining has been the rapid innovation in all things virtual, with virtual health care moving from a curiosity just a few years ago to a widely used necessity today. And perhaps most important, the virtual option has made mental health care specifically more accessible and acceptable for people in need. Indeed, in 2021 alone there was a 77 increase in virtual mental health visits—and that trend isn’t receding even as the pandemic does.

At Lightfully, virtual is an essential component to our comprehensive suite of mental health care that focuses on providing a complete continuum of services, which includes residential treatment centers (RTC), partial hospitalization programs (PHP), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and virtual IOPs that deliver care via secure online sessions.

And all of those integrated care options are rooted in our process-based therapy (PBT) clinical model, which allows us to be highly effective, consistent, and data-driven across all of our care delivery channels.

“What’s so beautiful about Lightfully and our PBT model is our commitment to the right therapeutic intervention for every patient—virtually, outpatient, or in-patient,” says Lightfully CEO Jennifer Steiner. “And the training model for our therapists ensures a consistent experience for every patient, regardless of the ‘where’ or the ‘how’ of their treatment needs.”

These integrated care options are essential to delivering on Lightfully’s mission to provide high quality care to the vast, underserved universe of people whose needs fall between the opposite ends of the mental health care spectrum: regular outpatient sessions on one end and intensive inpatient stays on the other. 

There has to be a better middle ground—and at Lightfully, a virtual session is often the first step for many clients toward finding that optimal fit. Here’s a closer look at our Virtual IOP offering. 

Who It Helps

Requesting treatment can be intimidating for many patients, especially when they’re starting to open up to the possibility that they may need some more help. For many of our clients, our Virtual IOP program helps them receive the care they need without feeling too intrusive. This can especially improve treatment access for patients from marginalized communities or those who may live far away from our treatment centers but still want to experience our care programs.

The virtual program also best serves people struggling with all of the demands of daily life and who need some extra support—working parents, for example, or people going through big life transitions.

“We’re really focused on offering care and support to people who can’t access it in person, for whatever reason,” says Lolly Wool, M.ED., NCC, CED, Lightfully’s Vice President of Operations for Virtual Programs. “And we do that from a compassionate and loving standpoint. Sometimes it can feel a little scary to come to treatment, and so virtual really offers an option for you to be able to get your foot in the door, see how it goes, and start to get familiar with the therapeutic process.”

The result? Clients using virtual programs get an opportunity to learn and practice skills in real-time—the same skills they would get in-person—but in an environment in which they feel safe and perhaps more comfortable to explore and try new things.

How It Works

Our virtual sessions are all handled through secure online video-conferencing, so the main requirement for clients is access to a reliable computer and internet connection.

For most clients, a typical virtual program includes one individual session a week, biweekly family therapy sessions, and group sessions. They also have the opportunity to meet with their case manager weekly and, when appropriate, work on discharge planning and support as they start to get ready to transition back to less-intensive care.

We are frequently asked: How does the virtual offering differ from the in-person offering? The simple answer is: Not much. 

“In the big picture, clinically, there’s not any difference here at Lightfully,” Wool says. “The clients that are in our virtual IOP are going to get the same offerings that our clients in in-person IOP programming get. And that’s why we work really closely with our in-person programs, so that we can make sure that clients get a full spectrum of treatment and are able to get the support they need, all the way through all the levels of care.”

How We Train

At Lightfully, all our clinicians are trained to care for patients in the same way, regardless of whether treatment is virtual or in-person. They learn to use our PBT-based clinical model to create a customized road map for care that prioritizes patients’ individual needs.

We want our patients in our Virtual IOP to feel like they’re getting the same quality of care as they would in-person. After all, our virtual program should still give clients the skills they need to thrive in the real world, with the added benefit of being able to incorporate these changes in an environment they are familiar with.

While training for virtual and in-person therapy is almost identical—and always rooted in the PBT clinical model—there are a few virtual-specific issues that need to be addressed, says Amber Parris Claudon, LICSW, Lightfully’s Vice President of Clinical Training.

“The few components to virtual that are different are really around being on a screen versus sitting with someone,” Claudon says. “So we really work with therapists on that—how do you engage on a screen? Therapy can feel different if they’re not used to doing it virtually, and so we practice that and prepare them for that. But the outcome—the really juicy clinical product—is exactly the same.”


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