It’s time to expand our thinking around the therapy experience. When people hear about teletherapy (aka- online therapy), most are initially skeptical. That’s understandable, as we’ve been doing traditional in-person talk therapy for over 100 years. Whether it was laying on a couch talking about your unconscious dreams with Sigmund Freud or sitting on a couch talking with your cognitive behavioral therapist, we all have an ingrained idea of what therapy is supposed to look and feel like.
The good news? Teletherapy has been shown to be as effective as traditional in-person therapy. Many clients end up loving it, even preferring it over traditional in-person therapy.
In this blog, we’ll review everything you need to know about teletherapy.
What is Teletherapy?
Teletherapy is the practice of therapy done remotely via the internet. It is usually done over video chat, think Skype/Facetime, but it’s more secure because the therapist must use a HIPAA compliant internet platform. It is also commonly referred to as “telemetal health,” “telepsychology,” “telepsych,” “online therapy,” “telemedicine,” and “skype therapy.”
Is Teletherapy an evidenced based treatment?
Yes, studies show that teletherapy is an effective way to provide mental health counseling to clients. Initially, there was skepticism from the mental health community but that has disappeared as the evidence show its efficacy. Today, telehealth has been approved to treat the great majority of mental health issues.
Can Teletherapy help treat depression and anxiety?
Yes, it is effective in treating depression and anxiety. The symptoms of depression and anxiety often make it difficult for those that need help to get help. Getting out of the house or driving across town is sometimes too difficult. The convenience gives many clients that suffer from anxiety and depression a better opportunity to receive the services they need from the comfort of their home.
What are some advantages of Teletherapy?
• Accessibility – Teletherapy is often easier to access than going in to an in-person therapy appointment. Clients in rural areas particularly like the option of teletherapy.
• Privacy – Clients don’t have to worry about anyone seeing them parked outside the therapist’s office. Teletherapists must adhere to all HIPAA regulations.
• Efficiency – Transportation time is eliminated when doing teletherapy. Forget being late for therapy.
• Comfort – Teletherapy allows clients the ability to do therapy from the comfort of their couch, living room, or bedroom.
What are some disadvantages of Teletherapy?
Those with severe mental health symptoms may need a higher level of care than traditional outpatient therapy (including teletherapy) and may want to consider alternative options for treatment (including an intensive outpatient program or hospitalization).
Additional possible disadvantages include:
• Potential technology problems – A good session requires a reliable internet connection and a reliable computer/phone for both the client and the therapist. Usually, refreshing the website is enough to fix the problem, but sometimes other tech issues need to be resolved before successfully doing teletherapy.
• Potential for missed cues – Body language can be an important part of communication. During teletherapy, the therapist usually can only see the client’s face and upper body. Due to this, there is a potential for missed communication cues.
• Distractions – If you’re doing therapy in the real world (instead of a therapist’s relaxing office), you’re going to have to content with real world distractions. Needy children and barking pets sometimes don’t take no for an answer.
Do I need special software or an app to do Teletherapy?
While there are multiple ways to do teletherapy, many don’t require the client to download programs or apps. You only need a computer or phone that has a functioning camera/microphone and a reliable internet connection. A link will be emailed to you and you simply click the link that is emailed to you. It’s shockingly simple.
Will I feel connected to my therapist?
Yes, let’s hope you feel connected to your therapist. Forming a good connection with your therapist is one of the most important indicators to finding therapeutic success. Just as it is during in-person sessions, teletherapy often takes a few sessions before a client feels connected to their therapist. In addition to the interpersonal issues, clients sometimes need a period of time to adjust to talking in front of a camera. This issue usually disappears by the end of the first session. If you don’t eventually feeling comfortable, that’s a sign that teletherapy might not be for you.
Is Teletherapy confidential?
Yes, teletherapy is HIPAA compliant and the client’s confidentiality completely respected and secured. The platform your therapist uses needs to be HIPAA compliant and the therapist’s records are guarded for confidentiality.
Clients needs to be sure that they do their online session in an area they are comfortable with the privacy of. For example, if a client is having the telepsychology session from home, family members may be able to overhear the therapy, posing a confidentiality risk. Similar breaches can occur if a client is in a public place — at work, in a coffee shop or even a park.
What happens if the video call freezes or cuts out?
In case of a lost connection or freezing, your therapist will first attempt to problem solve and reconnect with you. If the technology isn’t working correctly, alternate options can be used to continue the session (including continuing the session via phone). Email and text communication may also be used if the video isn’t working.
Teletherapy is a good option for the majority of people looking to get into therapy. Most importantly, it has been shown to be a scientifically effective way to do therapy. While many clients are skeptical of trying therapy over the internet, most clients end up enjoying it (many even prefer it to traditional in-person therapy). Clients need to be aware that there are some drawbacks. New clients should consider both the pros and cons before deciding if teletherapy is right for them.
If you’re a mental health professional looking for information about best practices in teletherapy, the National Institute of Mental Health has funded a project published here. The APA also published “guidelines for the practice of telepsychology” here.