Dr. Jessica interviewed Susan Youngsteadt, MSW LCSW, a psychotherapist practicing in Raleigh, North Carolina.
When did you first start working as a therapist?
I graduated with my Masters of Social Work degree in May 2016. I had a job in the nonprofit sector for the first nine months after graduation and then transitioned to being an in-home therapist for families in April of 2017 as a provisionally licensed therapist. I received full licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in August 2019.
What inspired you to become a therapist?
I come from a family of helpers—nurses, teachers, animal rescue workers, and the like—so working in a field that helped people was something I have always known I wanted to do. I can remember writing a poem for 9th grade English class where I stated I wanted to become a Marriage and Family Therapist. Fast forward 10 years or so, I may not be an MFT exactly, but I am a private practice psychotherapist working with families. I had a great relationship with my high school guidance counselor and I believe she was part of the inspiration to become a therapist as well.
How would you say your approach differs from other therapists?
At my current practice, I have been given the nickname of “the challenger.” My approach is built on relationships and transparency. I tend to be energetic, direct, and compassionate; creating a safe space to process life’s challenges while also assisting clients in learning skills to overcome them. I will challenge my clients to think differently in order to grow.
Could you elaborate a bit on what it’s been like switching to telehealth during this time? What (if any) impact do you think telehealth has on therapy?
For me, switching to telehealth as a form of therapy was not completely foreign, as we have provided telehealth as an option for clients prior to the COVID-19 epidemic. I was able to switch 95% of my caseload to telehealth with ease. Doing telehealth 100% of the time, however, has been more difficult. Training my brain to focus on the screen for 6+ hours a day is more exhausting than I anticipated. On therapy, I feel telehealth does have somewhat of a negative impact, at first. We as a society utilize computers, phones, iPads, etc. for a variety of means, but for therapy, that was done in a physical office space for many. Having to integrate the therapeutic experience into your use of technology may not come naturally. As a clinician, you lose the nonverbal cues of your clients, such as the tapping of a client’s foot or how they may be sitting. This creates a need for more verbal communication and other tactics to remain engaged and in tune with your clients. Telehealth has been described by some of my clients as invasive initially, as I was able to see into their homes or personal lives in a way I was not able to when we were completing sessions in office.
For anyone nervous to try teletherapy—what would you say to them?
It is okay and reasonable to be nervous. We as humans don’t always welcome changes. But don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back. Telehealth is a great way to continue therapeutic services and obtain the support needed during an overwhelming time. Give it a shot and see how it goes, understanding that there may be some technical glitches at first, but those can be figured out.
Have you noticed any other changes (besides the switch to telehealth) due to COVID-19 that have affected yourself, your practice, and/or your patients?
I have noticed an increase in what we call “compassion fatigue” and “burnout.” Due to COVID-19, what were everyday decisions have turned into “moral dilemmas.” The task of going to the grocery store is weighted with more anxiety and stress than it was four months ago. I myself, along with many of my clients, report feeling tired more often, experiencing sleep disturbances, and struggling to find joy in activities we once did. The practice where I work has seen an influx of new clients due to COVID-19, so we know people are reaching out for support during this time.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to share about telehealth. I would encourage anyone who has been considering beginning therapy to check out psychologytoday.com and search for therapists in your area. This is an unprecedented and stressful time for all and help is out there. You are worth it.
Susan Youngsteadt, MSW, LCSW is a 28-year-old psychotherapist practicing in Raleigh, North Carolina. She received her Bachelor’s of Art in Psychology from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 2014 and completed Master’s of Social Work from NCSU in 2016. Susan has a background in trauma and family dynamics, working with children in foster care and adoption in community mental health before transitioning to working with young adults. Susan currently works with ages 12+ in a private practice setting, with a focus on anxiety/depression, grief, and trauma. She enjoys spending time with her loved ones, reading, and being outside as often as possible.