Turkey sets global example with online therapy sessions to combat COVID-19 woes

Amid the growing uncertainty the coronavirus pandemic has introduced to the lives of millions, psychotherapy has become a key approach for maintaining the public’s mental wellness. The work of volunteer therapists from a Turkish association was recently included in the leading academic journal Springer for their exemplary research on online therapy. The eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) method used by the Turkish EMDR Association Trauma Healing Group helps health care workers on the frontline in the fight against the outbreak, their families and civil servants overseeing the struggle.

EMDR is said to be a significant therapy approach as it works in no more than five sessions and proves effective as psychological support, especially after disasters or in other extraordinary times like the pandemic.

The group reaches out to everyone in close contact with patients and potential cases in a wide range of sectors from health care to law enforcement and crisis management.

Emre Konuk, director of the Turkish EMDR Association Trauma Healing Group, told Anadolu Agency (AA) on Monday that disasters inflict massive damage but that their program helps people gain experience in how to reduce suffering. The association, with its nearly 2,000 volunteer members, offers therapy for those fighting disasters and pandemics.

The group had already drafted a program for online therapy and presented it at a European event on EMDR last year. “One year later, the pandemic emerged. Some volunteers were already engaged in online therapy. We were working on issues related to offering online therapy, whether it will be ethical, what the challenges are, etc. After the pandemic broke out, we trained 500 people on online therapy and divided them into groups. So far, we have held sessions with 600 people and found it worked. Our efforts were published in Springer as the first such application during the outbreak,” he said.

“The pandemic changed the way we work. Normally, people come to your office for therapy, but the online method enabled us to reach out to people all across the country,” Konuk added.

Initial results of sessions showed that the therapy paid off, and Konuk said they will share the results from 600 cases with the scientific community. Health care workers are those in need of therapy most. “They dared to live with the virus, but they have families. They don’t see their families now and have cut off communication with everyone. They don’t live at home anymore. They live alone and do not contact anyone. They sacrifice a lot and under constant risk of infection,” Konuk said.