The Emergence of Teletherapy

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When we think of mental health counseling or therapy, it’s often a couch and a formal office that pop into our minds. We don’t imagine the comfort of our living room or the familiar expanse of our backyards. Teletherapy has changed the traditional delivery of counseling. Rather than traveling to a therapist’s office, clients can remain wherever they feel most comfortable. Teletherapy has brought mental health counseling into people’s homes.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), teletherapy is the delivery of mental, speech or occupational health services by phone or video. Although it may include speech or occupational professions, teletherapy generally refers to mental health counseling.

Teletherapy and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for teletherapy. At a time when more people than ever may need assistance with stress, depression or anxiety, people seeking counseling may be unable to obtain services due to social distancing guidelines. Because of the pandemic, teletherapy is now a widely accepted alternative to in-person sessions.

Before COVID-19, teletherapy saw a slow acceptance. In a 2018 study, less than half of psychologists conducted therapy through electronic means, including online or over the phone. Also, many insurers were reluctant to pay for teletherapy.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the largest government insurer, broadened their coverage to include teletherapy and telehealth services until the end of the pandemic. This change opened the door for other insurers to do the same.

Common Questions About Teletherapy

Even after the pandemic, teletherapy will be here to stay. Teletherapy connects individuals who don’t have easy access to practitioners, especially in rural areas. With teletherapy, travel arrangements and waiting rooms aren’t a factor, which shortens the overall appointment process.

Interestingly, though teletherapy is more common than ever, people remain apprehensive about the concept. The following are a few common questions people may have about teletherapy.

Is teletherapy right for you?

Therapy or counseling might be right for you if you feel stagnant, if your relationships are in turmoil, or if your work or school is suffering. Many times, all that’s necessary is having a therapist who can be professional, objective and understanding. Having a safe space to voice your problems to someone with a neutral ear can make all the difference.

Teletherapy, however, may not be suitable for people with severe mental illness or for people who are in immediate danger to themselves and others. However, for people who have limited transportation options, who are homebound, or who do not have easy access to healthcare, teletherapy can be a welcome choice. 

How is teletherapy performed?

Depending on what the therapist offers and the what the client’s preference is, teletherapy can be conducted by phone, video calls or online. Some practitioners may even provide services by text.

Is teletherapy confidential and private?

Yes. If you’re concerned about your confidentiality, you can ask the practitioner about the methods they use to ensure they comply with current federal laws, and any state-level rules and regulations, regarding health records and personal privacy.

During teletherapy, privacy is also the client’s responsibility. For instance, a client must decide on an acceptable area to speak with a counselor.

 

Is teletherapy effective?

Studies have shown that teletherapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy sessions. What’s ultimately important is the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and the client. Engaging with a health professional, being invested in the process and being honest make therapy successful, regardless of where the treatment occurs.

Teletherapy and the New Normal

For the time being, teletherapy fills the gaps when in-person sessions are not possible due to pandemic safety. In the future, acceptance of teletherapy will grow, perhaps making it the preferred method for therapy. Because of its safety and convenience, teletherapy may just become the new normal in counseling.