Jun 15, 2022
By Angela Balsamo-Peña, LCSW
It’s hard to say which member of my household is more thrilled with my job as a telehealth therapist. It may be me, because I control my schedule and work at home; my husband, because he’s glad to see my stress go down; or Nathan, my Chihuahua and Boston Terrier mix who spends his days glued to my side.
Honestly, it’s probably Nathan. But I’m a close second.
Teletherapy work with Lyra feels like a dream sometimes, especially compared to some of the mental health clinics I was employed at before. When I worked in person, I became a seasoned veteran of dysfunctional workplaces, with chronic stress becoming a way of life. It wasn’t until the pandemic that I got to experience working from home—and unfortunately, that was short-lived as various efforts to return to the workplace ensued following the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m one of a growing number of full-time blended care therapists employed by Lyra Health. At Lyra, I set my own hours. I get the benefits that any full-time employee should expect, including PTO. I have easy access to professional support. Additionally, we deliver traditional therapy via telehealth from the comfort of our homes and provide clients with a variety of interactive online tools to use on their own time, like worksheets and videos. These tools keep our clients engaged in their mental health journey between appointments, so they’re continuing to grow and learn even when they’re not with us in the virtual therapy space.
Working remotely with Lyra has given me more than a supportive working environment. It’s given me back my peace of mind.
Before becoming a fully remote therapist, I completed an internship that allowed me to serve the people experiencing housing insecurity as a graduate student and intern at Fordham University. Later on, I worked at a woman’s correctional facility, then a center for youth in crisis, and finally a center for at-risk teens. Each of these jobs was rewarding, but each of them was stressful in its own way.
One of these workplaces in particular brought more than its fair share of stress. The clients I counseled at that location had high rates of suicidality and self-harm, and some could even be violent. During the pandemic, when everyone worked remotely, I began treating people from all over my home state of New York and was expected to refer those clients to programs in their local communities. New York is a large state, so I often found myself scouring Google and making phone calls to find therapists and programs in towns I’d never heard of.
What bothered me most, however, was the lack of care shown to us by management. The other therapists and I were expected to be “work robots.” No matter what happened, we were supposed to keep going, unfazed. Client made a suicide attempt? Move on with your day. Family member died in the pandemic? Please be back at work tomorrow. Getting time off for self-care was met with a lot of questions and reluctance and made me feel like I had to prove my need for rest and recovery.
The management systems and administration seemed ironically uninterested in their mental health practitioners’ mental health.
After several years of a professional career in these stressful scenarios, I found myself searching job sites for opportunities that might be less emotionally harrowing. And then I came across a listing for therapists at Lyra—for fully remote therapists.
This exists? I thought to myself. I had always envied friends who worked in industries where remote employment was common. Now an opportunity in my own field had landed right in my lap. I didn’t hesitate to apply, and after a thorough and rewarding interview process, I was hired.
I was elated to make the switch to working from home. I was even more excited to realize that I had just made a serious upgrade in terms of employers.
Lyra immediately showed that it truly prioritizes the mental wellness of its employees—a breath of fresh air given what I had just been through.
As a new employee, I had access to weekly video chats with supervisors who supported and helped me get oriented to my role. As time goes on, I have discovered that Lyra’s leadership team is very invested in my well-being. Self-care is encouraged here, and I feel at liberty to tell my team how I’m doing. As a Lyra therapist, I get therapy whenever I need it, and it’s included in my mental health benefit. Company messaging constantly reinforces the idea of staying mentally and physically healthy.
“Now wait a minute,” I hear you asking. “Friendly supervisors and PTO are great, but don’t you feel isolated working at home by yourself all day?”
First of all, with Nathan skittering around the house, I am literally never alone. But beyond that, Lyra works very hard to fill our need for coworker socialization. Lyra uses Slack for instant messaging and communication, and there are dedicated channels for blended care therapists to chat, celebrate wins, and receive guidance. They even have individual Slack channels for us based on our geographic region, so I can get to know my fellow East Coast colleagues. Lyra also hosts video meetings once per month where employees can catch up with company news and plug in to the larger organization. If I want to speak with a coworker, I have plenty of opportunities.
And it’s not all work-related, either. Lyra gives new employees a stipend to spend on virtual socializing. My group chose a virtual paint-and-sit. I heard of others who tackled a virtual escape room. You wouldn’t believe the number of recreational activities you can migrate online with a little creativity.
Here’s what a typical day looks like for me:
It starts anywhere from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., depending on the needs of the day. I settle into my home office, perhaps wearing slippers—in online meetings, who’s to know?—and conduct several client sessions. I take care of all of my clients, allowing myself enough downtime between blocks of work to recharge and become fully present for the next set of clients. I’ll sometimes block off an afternoon for errands, appointments, and other personal matters, then see clients in the evening. This is great for clients with demanding daytime schedules. Because I don’t have to leave the house, it’s much easier to schedule flexible appointment times that work for everyone.
As for the types of issues I deal with, there’s a mix of diagnoses. My clients struggle with everything from anxiety and depression to work burnout. I specialize in treating suicidality, so I take on a good number of clients who are facing that problem, and I refer cases I don’t feel adequately equipped to support to other Lyra therapists whose specialty it is. That’s one of the many benefits of being part of a remote team—it allows me to refer clients to any Lyra practitioner licensed in their state of residence, regardless of physical location. This opens up possibilities for those who live in rural or remote areas, or have very specific needs. Having this library of Lyra therapists makes referrals easy and fast.
Another benefit is the flexibility to work from any location in the state you’re licensed in, as long as you can guarantee privacy and WiFi security. I’ve worked from my home office, a family home in Westchester County, a friend’s beach house in Long Island, and other places. This is a godsend for therapists who need a chance of scenery, or when an urgent travel need arises and the therapist doesn’t want to cancel all their appointments.
The option for remote work was long overdue in the mental health space before the pandemic made it common. Although a remote environment might not be the right fit for every therapist and every client, for many of us, it reduces burnout and allows us to live more balanced lives. I know that my own mental health has improved greatly since making the switch to Lyra.
Every time I sink into my cozy office chair with my four-legged office manager, or unplug to run an errand, or just notice how low my stress is at the end of the day, I know I made the right choice. That’s why I now evangelize the Lyra life to all of my social work and mental health colleagues.
If you’re a therapist who thinks you might benefit from going fully remote, I urge you to give it a try. Teletherapy is here to stay, and you just might love it as much as I do.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Angela Balsamo-Peña, LCSW, began working for Lyra Health in June 2021 as a Blended Care Therapist. Angela obtained her master’s degree in social work and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Angela believes that therapy is a form of self-care that anyone and everyone can benefit from. Angela has a knack for marrying evidence-based therapies, such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, to irreverent humor and fun metaphors in her sessions with Lyra customers residing in New York.