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Telehealth Used to Treat Rural ND Child-Abuse Victims

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Friday, July 19, 2019   

BISMARK, N.D. – Rural North Dakota is getting a digital solution to the lack of mental-health resources for children who've been victims of abuse.

Children's Advocacy Centers of North Dakota launched telehealth therapy services this week for kids handling trauma. Interim director of the centers, Paula Condol, says the method is based on University of South Carolina research on cognitive behavioral therapy, which she calls the "gold standard" for treating traumatized kids.

The research has found virtual care is just as effective as in-person therapy, and so Condol jumped on the opportunity.

"And I thought, that's what we need to have in North Dakota," says Condol, “something that creates that equal access, so kids who are in Dunn County or in Williston can have the same exact services as if you were right here in Bismarck, North Dakota, or in Fargo, North Dakota.”

She says the organization is the first in the nation to use telehealth for this kind of therapy, which is sorely needed in the state. Condol says 90% of North Dakotans live in areas that have few, if any, mental-health counselors.

Twelve therapists in Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks are on deck to help kids remotely, which also eliminates weekly, hours-long drives for families.

Condol says deep breathing is the cornerstone of treatment. She explains to kids how proper breathing affects the body, clears out the thinking process and can be used as a coping mechanism.

"When we're teaching deep breathing we talk about, 'So when you think about that bad situation that happened, or you wake up in the middle of the night from a nightmare, this is a skill that you can use to calm your body down,’" says Condol. “Because, again, if your heart is beating at 100 beats per minute and you're trying to sleep at night, that's not going to work."

She says a parent or caregiver has to be nearby during therapy sessions. And at the end of a session, kids teach them about what they've learned, so that everyone in the household can practice these skills.

The centers can provide the tools to families to connect with doctors, such as an iPad, and will bill insurance but never bill the families directly.

Condol adds that most of the kids they've treated have been victims of sexual abuse.


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