by Stacy Mosel, LMSW
Teletherapy is mental health counseling that takes place online using video conferencing, via telephone, or through text messaging or apps. In the past decade, with the shift to providing more virtual services in health care, teletherapy has become an increasingly popular and convenient way for providers and patients to connect, and research appears to support its efficacy.
While you might worry about issues like confidentiality or privacy, most providers, especially those who accept insurance as a form of payment, offer HIPAA-compliant technology. This means that the technology has been deemed to be a secure and private platform that is able to prevent “accidental or malicious breaches.” Platforms that meet this requirement include Skype for Business, Zoom for Healthcare, Amazon Chime, or Microsoft Teams, so you can rest assured that your sessions will remain confidential and secure.
If you’re interested in counseling but you’re not sure if teletherapy is a good fit for your needs, keep reading to learn why this relatively new and innovative approach of providing mental health care could be the right choice for you.
Living in an area with limited or no conveniently located mental health providers is arguably one of the most logical reasons to engage in teletherapy. Teletherapy can expand your list of potential therapists to the whole country (or even the whole world, if you’re so inclined). You can screen therapists based on your specific preferences, which might not be possible if you live in an area where there may be only two or three qualified practitioners, and decide which one is the best fit for you.
If you don’t drive, if you prefer to avoid public transportation, or if transportation is problematic for you in other ways (like reduced mobility), teletherapy may be an easier, stress-free method of engaging in counseling because your commute time is virtually zero. Similarly, people who don’t want to leave their homes for whatever reason may prefer to have their sessions from the comfort of their own living rooms. You don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot or making sure the trains or subways are running on schedule.
With traditional therapy, you often have to commit to a regular time slot each week, which can be beneficial for people who have a fixed schedule or prefer routine. However, if you have a crammed schedule, you might want therapy to be as easy and stress-free as possible. So, why would you want to spend even more of your valuable time commuting to a therapist’s office? Or, maybe you prefer to have a more fluid approach to treatment and want to be able to schedule sessions on an as-needed basis. Therapists who offer teletherapy are usually more flexible with scheduling and can often squeeze in last-minute or emergency sessions, which may not always be as feasible or convenient with in-person treatment.
In times of uncertainty and chaos, such as with the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people want to start or continue treatment, but they worry about having to travel or being able to maintain social distancing. Due to health concerns, you might not feel comfortable leaving your home or visiting your therapist’s office. Teletherapy has become an increasingly popular, convenient, and safe method for people who want or need treatment during this health crisis. In addition, many mental health centers that have been forced to suspend in-person sessions because of the pandemic have shifted, at least temporarily, to this new format, which ensures continuity of care. For many patients, teletherapy has been the only way to continue treatment.
Perhaps you have privacy concerns and don’t want to be seen traveling to or exiting a mental health clinic or therapist’s office, or you don’t feel comfortable sharing your personal details (such as name, address, religion, gender, etc.). Maybe you don’t feel comfortable sitting in a crowded waiting room where you may see people you know. You might also have anxiety or a phobia (such as agoraphobia, which is a fear of places that make you feel trapped).
Teletherapy is one of the easiest ways of maintaining privacy, preventing unwanted interactions, and easing anxiety about having to navigate crowds or public places. Some therapists even use anonymous platforms, so you don’t even have to provide identifying information (and they also don’t make a diagnosis, keep notes, or store a file about you).
You might worry that teletherapy won’t be as effective as in-person treatment. However, research has shown that for many patients, online therapy can produce the same results as in-person treatment. Of course, it also depends on your specific issue and personal preferences, including how committed you are to engage in therapy and how competently your therapist is able to stay engaged with you. But in most cases, research has shown that teletherapy can have equivalent results to in-person therapy for a wide range of mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety.
While teletherapy has many benefits, only you can decide what’s best for you. One of the most important components of effective therapy is the relationship you have with your therapist. Whether you choose online or in-person treatment, make sure that you can trust your therapist and that they are able to provide you with the support you need.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, and substance abuse specialist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a Master of Social Work degree in 2002. She has extensive training in child and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Currently, she is focusing on writing in the fields of mental health and addictions, drawing on her prior experiences as an employee assistance program counselor, individual and family therapist, and assistant director of a child and family services agency.