First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Douglas Vakoch: The coronavirus has brought challenges to all of us. My family has been fortunate to remain healthy during these trying times, and we have adapted to life and work in a new world where virtual connections are substituting, for now, for many of the face-to-face contacts we have had in the past. It’s difficult not to spend time with friends as freely as we could before, but we are staying safe and planning for the future when we can return to a greater sense of normalcy.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this Green Psychotherapy, PC.
Douglas Vakoch: The pandemic reminds us of the tremendous challenges our society faces as we respond to threats to our personal and environmental health and well-being. We founded Green Psychotherapy, PC, to offer to provide traditional psychotherapy for such difficulties as depression and anxiety, while also addressing concerns about how we can deal effectively with the ecological crisis.
How does Green Psychotherapy, PC innovate?
Douglas Vakoch: Psychotherapy has traditionally focused on how people cope individually and as part of larger groups–whether in a romantic relationship, their family, or their larger community. At Green Psychotherapy, PC, we go the next step by encouraging clients to also view themselves as global citizens who face broader ecological challenges like global warming and the coronavirus. Often people feel anxiety, knowing that something isn’t quite right in their lives, and they focus on problems that seem nearest to them, like conflicts at work and home. But sometimes, under the surface, people also have a gnawing worry that there’s something that’s gone awry on a national and international level. It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of such daunting global problems. At Green Psychotherapy, PC, we encourage clients to face these fears head-on and to engage in actions consistent with their values and hopes for the future.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Douglas Vakoch: We have always encouraged clients to find additional ways to spend time in nature. Simply spending more time outdoors can improve our mood and help reduce anxiety. The good news is that one of the activities that health experts encourage for coping with COVID-19 is to take a walk outside. Walking with friends while social distancing can help us stay connected to people we care about, while also helping us maintain active lifestyles. It’s easy to get cooped up inside, spending our days moving from one Zoom meeting to the next. We need to make an active decision to stay engaged with the natural world around us.
Our greatest change at Green Psychotherapy, PC, in response to the coronavirus, is to see clients through telehealth, rather than in-person therapy sessions. Many of our clients will find a place in nature where they can have their weekly therapy sessions, finding a private space outdoors. For the coming months, instead of having sessions where the therapist and client meet face-to-face, we will have remote sessions, where the client can have increased connection with the natural environment that they’re always part of.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Douglas Vakoch: From the outset, it was clear that we couldn’t be all things to all clients. Instead, we have been very clear about what we do well, and we seek out clients whose needs fit what we offer. Our goal is to offer a nurturing, supportive experience for each client who decides to work with us.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Green Psychotherapy, PC in the future?
Douglas Vakoch: We tackle stress and anxiety head-on. For some of the greatest long-term challenges we face as individuals and communities, this open acknowledgment of the threats we face can be a relief. For decades, at some level, people have recognized the threat of global warming, but we have been in denial when you look at our actions and the actions of our elected officials. We can never really run away from our anxiety, so at Green Psychotherapy, PC, we face it directly.
As we come out of denial as a society as a whole, step by step, we enter into a future where we recognize the actions we need to take to foster a sustainable civilization. My hope is that the innovations we’re making at Green Psychotherapy, PC today will become standard practice among therapists in the future.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Douglas Vakoch: The San Francisco Bay Area is home to well over 20,000 psychotherapists, reflecting the need for quality mental health care in this cultural and tech center of the West. Clients have a wide variety of therapists to choose from, and the demand for psychotherapy is greater than available therapists. Our goal at Green Psychotherapy, PC, is to understand what clients seek through psychotherapy to determine whether we’re the best fit. For clients who feel helpless in the face of global warming and our current worldwide pandemic, we provide tools to help them cope through a unique therapy experience.
Your final thoughts?
Douglas Vakoch: We are facing a time of unprecedented personal and societal challenges. When the stresses get overwhelming, it’s natural to withdraw and deny there’s a problem. But when instead, we can recognize that we’re unhappy with things as they are, we can find a new sense of power within. At Green Psychotherapy, PC, over and over, we see our clients realizing how courageous they already are to start therapy, and then they build on this strength to create a fulfilling life that is unique to them.