In the past two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, telehealth therapy has become increasingly important. A growing number of people are opting for telehealth or online therapy to meet their mental health needs. Online therapy enables an individual to meet with their therapist from nearly anywhere in the world, as long as they have a stable internet or phone connection.
The most popular form of telehealth in mental health is online therapy through a secure video conferencing platform. Some therapists may also offer phone or text therapy. Online therapy has also been called teletherapy, distance counseling, telemental health, and internet therapy.
What is telehealth therapy?
Telehealth therapy is the use of telecommunication technologies to provide mental health care services to patients remotely. It creates an avenue for clients to have the same experience they would have at their therapist’s office, all from the comfort of their home. It can be helpful for clients with transportation issues, clients with physical limitations, clients who live in remote settings and numerous other scenarios. With telehealth therapy, clients have the flexibility to attend sessions from the place they feel most comfortable.
How does telehealth therapy work?
Telehealth therapy works by establishing a medium of communication between patients and their therapists who are not in the same physical location. When a client has a session scheduled with their therapist, they decide together which telehealth therapy channel to use to host their session. The communication mode can either be video or audio-based and is mutually agreed upon by the patient and therapist to have what works best for them. In the video-based model, a video chat platform is made available for clients to connect with their therapist. Group therapy sessions are also possible with additional coordination.
Is telehealth therapy effective?
“What we’ve seen is that telehealth is essentially just as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy—and retention rates are higher,” says David Mohr, PhD, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who has spent his career studying telepsychology and digital mental health. As telehealth therapy becomes more widely accepted, practitioners are now facing decisions about which teleconferencing platform to use, how to accommodate clients with older devices and unreliable internet connections, how to minimize security risks, and how to supervise trainees and interns remotely. (From APA article “How Well is Telepsychology Working?”)
“What we’ve seen is that telehealth is essentially just as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy—and retention rates are higher.”
David Mohr, PhD, Director of Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern
Tips for therapists providing telehealth therapy:
- Use a HIPAA-based platform for online therapy
Not all online therapy platforms are private. If a clinician uses a system that isn’t HIPAA-encrypted, it might be possible for people to access parts of sessions. Before using an online therapy platform, research HIPAA compliance.
- Make sure both therapists and clients have a reliable internet connection
Make sure to test internet speed before sessions. If the internet cuts our in the middle of a session it can hinder the progress of clients and change the flow of a session. Try doing a few practice sessions with a friend before meeting with a client to confirm that your internet is operating optimally.
- Confirm that the location is private before conducting telehealth sessions
It’s important to be able to focus fully on your clients without being interruptions. Interruptions can be very distracting to both therapists and clients, and can interfere with the level of care that clients receive.
- Pause computer and phone notifications during telehealth sessions
Notifications can be distracting, especially if they deal with stressful topics like work or news updates. Pause notifications on computers and phones during telehealth sessions. This will allow therapists to focus and be able to do their very best work.
- Think about eye contact
Originally connecting virtually felt awkward, but it’s becoming more and more natural for lots of people. Clients will feel like therapists are looking directly at them when therapists look at the camera lens.
- Find a comfortable position before starting telehealth therapy sessions
During a typical online counseling session, clinicians will be staring at a computer screen for a decent amount of time. So, paying attention to being physically comfortable can be important. Clinicians also want to pay attention to the distance they’re sitting from the camera so they are best able to connect with the client. Sitting too close can feel strange and too far can feel impersonal. Take time before starting a session to make sure all of these variables are controlled as much as possible.