When COVID-19 began, the world had no choice but to adapt. Both mental health care providers and people seeking mental health had to make the switch to teletherapy regardless of whether they had prior telehealth platform experience or not. Now that COVID restrictions are lessening and the country is opening back up, will in-person counseling sessions become the norm once again or can we expect people to stick with their online providers?
Many believe that teletherapy is here to stay. Delivering care remotely allows mental health providers to reach more people, especially those who are geographically isolated and those who lack access to childcare or transportation.
Why It’s Effective
Teletherapy has been proven to be just as effective as face-to-face therapy with even higher retention rates, possibly because there isn’t a “commute.” Although there has been research done over the past few decades regarding technology’s effectiveness, the health care industry never would have embraced it fully without something significant as the pandemic occurring.
In addition to patients that were already seeking therapy before COVID hit, an increased number of people began to seek out counseling to help deal with the stress of isolation, family and relationship issues, and heightened anxiety and depression disorders. All these patients now have an appetite for receiving care remotely, and that fact is likely to fundamentally change the environment in which people receive therapy.
Challenges to Teletherapy
First, teletherapy creates a physical separation between the therapist and client, which limits non-verbal communication – and part of the therapeutic presence is utilizing body language to connect and build trust. Another problem is that telehealth makes mental health care less accessible for people that don’t have reliable access to technology or older adults who aren’t familiar with the technology. These barriers tend to impact communities that already have a difficult time getting access to mental help such as low-income households, people in rural areas, and BIPOC2. There are concerns and potential risks that come with online services (such as data breaches) and ways in which those specific risks are being managed (data encryption, firewalls, and anti-virus and anti-malware software). Due to these barriers, concerns, and potential risks, we can’t expect teletherapy to become the sole means of people receiving help, but we can count on it to continue growing as access to technology gets more widespread and people become more comfortable with it. Ahles shared, “I generally prefer face to face, but in some ways, I think people over Zoom and virtual, they have more emotional space,” Ahles said. “It’s a little bit easier for them to open up about things because family wasn’t in the same room.”
During COVID, Santé Center for Healing saw the opportunity to help connect individuals all over the nation with therapists in their area. Santé created a website called Find a Telehealth Therapist. It allows individuals to quickly locate a telehealth provider within their region, state, or city. The interactive platform provides information on licensed professional counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, chemical dependency counselors and psychologists through their telehealth services, so anyone can find the help they need.
American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/cover-telepsychology
Mental Health America. “Teletherapy During COVID-19: What The Research Says” Retrieved from: https://mhanational.org/teletherapy-during-covid-19-what-research-says
Article by Vedika Bakre