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USF psychologists report uptick in online disinhibition

Social distancing has moved almost all in-person interactions online, which may be leading to more productive therapy sessions. USF psychologists are noticing more instances of online disinhibition. The behavior is similar to when you share a car ride and speak more freely since you’re not looking at anyone face-to-face.

“The effect in therapy implies that people would open up quicker and more deeply,” said Nick Joyce, staff psychologist and coordinator of online assistive therapies at the USF Counseling Center.

Joyce and his colleagues have noticed some students have become less restrained since moving online, revealing past traumas and showing emotion like never before. Joyce says the psychological distance between a person and their therapist seems to allow more access to their mentality.

The center’s telehealth program was implemented more than a year ago for distance and online students. Since spring break, all Counseling Center therapists have been conducting online therapy sessions via video calls. According to a recent feedback survey conducted by the center, 85 percent of students agree that their telehealth appointment was comparable to an in-person session. While many students still prefer being seen in-person, online therapy sessions are critical opportunities for those who would normally avoid walking into the center.

 “We know that there is a certain population that is just going to come in and see us. At the Counseling Center, we are always concerned that the students who probably need us most are the ones who are least likely to come in,” Joyce said. “There is no shame in using the service, there are a lot of students struggling because of this pandemic.”

Joyce refers to this period as a “collective traumatic event,” where everyone is affected and there are no clear answers. Counselors help students develop skills to better cope with increased stress, feelings of depression and lack of concentration. As Joyce puts it, “learning to be okay, when you’re not okay,” is a skillset that helps students stay in the present and take it one hour at a time.

The Counseling Center also offers a selection of drop-in groups online to help students cope with the current pandemic and social distancing. The center remains available to students throughout the summer.

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