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When the pandemic lockdowns slammed society’s doors closed in March 2020, the leaders at McLean Hospital’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute in Massachusetts needed a new plan. Some of the care they delivered so carefully wasn’t safe in person anymore. By the end of April, McLean had overhauled its approach, launching services online for people in need of partial hospitalization.

Three thousand miles away, a similar experiment played out on the same timeline at UCLA’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Intensive Treatment Program, where patients came for more dedicated help when lighter-touch treatments weren’t working. Moving the programs virtual was a risky idea, but one borne out of necessity. Intensive, outpatient mental health care has, for years, hinged on important steps designed for in-person interactions: getting up and going to an outpatient program every day to create a sense of routine, flexing coping skills through exposure therapy in real-world environments, and participating in group sessions.


“Some people were kind of reluctant or like, ‘I don’t know if it’s worth doing virtual, maybe I’ll wait till Covid is over,’” said Jamie Feusner, the former director of the UCLA program. “And lo and behold, here we are, and we’re still doing it virtual. But now, people are so familiar and comfortable with doing virtual sessions that they just kind of understand that this is the best way of doing it and maybe the only way of doing it for a lot of treatments.”

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