Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half of adults in America say that “worry and stress related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are hurting their mental health.” With shelter-in-place orders enforced, most in-person therapy was discontinued, reducing mental health support options for those who needed it most.
Given this situation, the potential of teletherapy to help people get the mental healthcare they need is of particular importance today. Here are seven benefits:
- Access to Care During the Pandemic
Teletherapy improves access to care during the coronavirus pandemic, allowing patients to continue their therapy and mental health treatment remotely. Similarly, teletherapy can allow therapists to continue working remotely while shelter-in-place orders remain in effect.
- Flexibility During Times of Illness or Other Limiting Factors
While the pandemic has temporarily halted access to in-person care, many other illnesses can limit in-person therapy at any time due to health concerns on the part of the patient and the therapist. People with mobility issues, whether permanent disabilities or complications due to injuries or a temporary condition, may not be able to travel to a therapist’s office. Teletherapy gives patients and therapists the flexibility to continue their practice regardless of these and other factors.
- Access to Care for Underserved Populations in Rural Areas
Even under normal circumstances, teletherapy can be used to care for patients who live in underserved rural areas and lack access to local, in-person quality mental healthcare. Similarly, teletherapy allows therapists to live where they choose as well as access a larger client base from any urban, suburban or rural areas in which they are licensed to practice.
- Flexibility in Time and Place
Teletherapy is inherently flexible, allowing many people to continue their course of therapy regardless of their schedules or circumstances. It eliminates commuting for appointments and other common logistical limitations, as well as waiting room delays. A teletherapy appointment is possible at any time or place that works for both therapist and patient.
- Continuity and Consistency
Continuity and consistency in the therapeutic process is essential to the efficacy of therapy. This can be especially true when involving techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) that rely on regular, continuous processes over a series of appointments. If therapy is irregular or discontinued due to circumstances like the pandemic, the therapeutic process can be ineffective or compromised. The use of teletherapy in these circumstances can ensure the continuity and consistency of the therapeutic process, regardless of disruptions like the pandemic, travel, illnesses, or changing schedules.
- Cost Savings
Teletherapy can save patients both time and money considering factors like commuting, childcare and time off from work for a midday appointment. The same is true for therapists who stand to save substantial amounts of money typically spent on office expenses like rent, furniture and administrative assistance.
- Accommodation of Patient Comfort Levels and Preferences
Conscientious therapists consider the unique needs and preferences of patients in a number of ways. For example, patients may be hesitant to go to a therapist’s office given the possibility of running into an acquaintance. The confidentiality and privacy inherent to teletherapy is one way to decrease this anxiety and concern. Teletherapy may also serve to engage the digital-native generation and people with social anxiety who may be more comfortable interacting through online platforms.
Teletherapy has come a long way in recent years, especially given advancements in video-conferencing technologies and increased cybersecurity. The pandemic has further driven teletherapy to the forefront of mental healthcare, resulting in changes in regulations and law surrounding teletherapy and health insurance requirements. To remain relevant in these uncertain times , therapists will want to stay current and educate themselves in the many benefits and effective applications of modern teletherapy.
Lamar University’s online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program offers students a unique, hybrid educational experience while they earn a degree in this growing field. Students strengthen the knowledge and skills they gain through online coursework by completing seminars incorporating face-to-face individual and group therapy online as well as practicums and internships.
Although this study has clear application to traditional, in-person therapy, the direct experience with online therapy modalities prepares students to be effective teletherapy practitioners.