With 2020’s events around COVID-19, many professions and organizations moved to remote work. In response to this transition, individuals are experiencing a significant increase in the use of video conferences and video chats. Although video conferencing is new for many people, the use of virtual meetings and appointments have been around for decades, so too has been the case for telehealth and telemedicine practices.
What is “Telehealth” or “Virtual Therapy”
Telehealth is the process of receiving mental health services via audio or video through the use of your phone, computer, or tablet. Essentially, it’s completing virtual session swith your therapist. In fact, if you have ever completed a video conference call on your phone or computer, or Apple iPhone’s Facetime feature, you have experienced the feel of telehealth. Now that telehealth has become more prominent, we are seeing lots of names to describe this form of delivering mental health services including:
- Online Counseling
- Online Therapy
- Video Counseling
- Virtual Therapy
- Remote Sessions
- Mobile Therapy
- And more
As therapists, we know it’s difficult to make the choice to even start therapy and make that first phone call, and now we’re in a time where there is an added layer to consider, choosing if therapy through a virtual session is a good fit for you. Here are a few key things to consider when deciding if telehealth and virtual sessions are right for you.
Myths About Telehealth and Virtual Therapy
Because this concept is new to so many people, I’ve heard several myths pop up about starting telehealth services with a therapist. Here are a few.
“I’m not technologically savvy enough to do virtual sessions with my therapist.”
While the primary mode of delivery is through technology, you do not have to be “tech savvy” to participate in a virtual session with your therapist. Once you choose to schedule an intake, your therapist will likely provide you with directions on what to expect and how to access your appointment. Know that every practice/clinic is different and everyone uses different platforms to deliver telehealth services.
For instance, at Small Town Counseling CA, Inc we know the idea of a virtual therapy session may increase some anxiety with new and current clients. This is why we prepared an Online Counseling (Telehealth) Page, to help our current and prospective clients better understand the process and decrease any anxiety or worry around what to expect. On this page we cover the following:
- What is Telehealth?
- What to Expect in Scheduling and How to Access your Appointment
- Information on our secure video platform and where to learn more about it
- Benefits to Telehealth Services and
- Limitations to Telehealth Services
You do not have to be “tech savvy,” but like all things new, it does take a willingness to learn.
“I can schedule with any therapist online, right?”
Yes and no. While you absolutely have the right to and should explore therapist profiles and websites to identify who you best connect with, you can only receive services from a therapist who is registered and/or licensed in your state. For instance, if you reside in California, be sure to check the website you are on and make sure the provider is registered/licensed in California. If you accidentally contact someone who is not registered/licensed in your state, do NOT worry – he/she will let you know.
*BONUS (Just in case you didn’t catch it): For in-person sessions, you’re likely looking within a fairly close proximity to your home or work, but telehealth allows you to expand your search outside of these limitations, expanding your pool of providers to choose from. Telehealth allows you to schedule with a therapist who may physically be located several hours from you, so long as they are licensed to practice in your state. This eliminated the worry of potential commute and travel times.
“It’s weird. I don’t think I can build a relationship with my therapist over a screen.”
Weird? Perhaps. But only for a brief period. Again, experiencing something new takes a level of willingness to learn and try. If you are used to in-person appointments and sessions, it is going to feel different the first or second time, but as you become familiar with the process and comfortable with what to expect, the “weirdness” will eventually decrease and/or diminish completely.
In fact, I might ask this person to challenge this statement by evaluating the means in which we are currently obligated to communicate and maintain relationships during this time (Note: at the time of writing this article, all of CA is amidst a Shelter in Place Order due to COVID-19). Phone, tablets, computers and technology have become an essential avenue in how we are maintaining relationships.
If you connect with a therapist and are ready to start therapy, but are avoiding starting solely because video sessions feel “weird”, I encourage you to consider the benefits you will gain from therapy. Then, ask yourself if it is worth putting off (likely, again) just to avoid the virtual part of treatment, or worth stepping a little out of your comfort zone and start finding healing and relief from the things that led you to therapy in the first place.
“Isn’t virtual therapy a lower quality of service since it’s not in person?”
Every therapist will have a varying level of experience on how they address your treatment plan. Interventions will differ, modalities in treatment will differ and personal styles will differ. Some may focus on workbook activities, some may incorporate walk-therapy, some may incorporate expressive arts activities or play therapy activities and some engage you real time guided meditations, relaxation or yoga poses. Just because modalities are different, doesn’t mean one therapist’s style is any less valuable than the another. Same goes for delivery of therapy, receiving virtual therapy vs in-person therapy does not make any one or the other less valuable. Granted, there are some interventions that may be difficult to adapt to a virtual session, however, your therapist has likely explored this and will recommend either virtual or in-person (or even a combination) based on this assessment.
Know that therapists are professionals both in in-person and virtual capacities. As Mental Health Providers, our profession is held to specific levels of Standard of Care. We are required to complete continuing education and training and obligated to adhere to legal and ethical standards as put forth by our respective Boards. These standards guide our practice both in-person and in a virtual setting.
Now that we hit on a few common myths and benefits, let’s also talk about some limitations to virtual therapy.
Limitations of Telehealth (“Virtual Therapy”)
It is important to be mindful of the benefits of telehealth, but also important to be aware of the risks and limitations of Telehealth services. Below are some limitations to telehealth.
- Generally speaking, Telehealth is typically not appropriate for high risk behaviors including self-harm or active suicidality. However, given current circumstances and barriers to in-person access to care, providers are exercising individual, clinical judgement on how they are screening for appropriateness for telehealth services. Please consult with a professional if you are unsure if telehealth or appropriate for you. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, visit our Mental Health Resources page for crisis resources or go to your nearest emergency room.
- Given our providers are licensed in California or under the clinical supervision of a mental health provider whom is licensed in California, our office may only provide Telehealth services to current residents of California (proof of residence will be requested at intake).
- Some insurances will not cover Telehealth. Please note we are primarily an out-of-network provider and can provide monthly superbills at your request. If you have any questions regarding your health insurance’s coverage of Telehealth services, please consult with your insurance provider directly. (*ALSO NOTE: Due to COVID-19, many insurances are working to eliminate barriers to Telehealth in effort increase accessibility to services. Please consult with your insurance provider directly.)
Telehealth is only one way of accessing mental health services and it’s important to consider all the factors when deciding whether or not this may be a good fit for you or your child. If you have any questions on the appropriateness of telehealth treatment for you or your child, please contact a professional.
Our team is also available to answer any questions about telehealth and the virtual services available at Small Town Counseling CA, Inc. For a list of FAQs about Therapy Services or additional Resources to Help you cope with COVID-19, please visit our website.
Alyssa Najera, LCSW
Small Town Counseling CA, Inc
Chief Executive Officer
Alyssa is a mental health provider and CEO of Small Town Counseling CA, Inc (STCCA), a group private practice that promotes mental wellness and education on trauma and anxiety through mental health services and training. Alyssa also provides coaching and consulting to groups and organizations on mental health in the workplace and is co-host of the Therapists Uncut Podcast.