10 Advantages Of Teletherapy
Not all screen time is equal: Thank goodness we don't have 1918 tech!
Posted Aug 30, 2020
Obviously, most human interactions are best when they are experienced in person. Indeed, in the past I have blogged about the importance of actuality versus “virtuality” (e.g., actual friendship versus online relationships). But in this extraordinary and deeply troubling time of the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic, virtuality has a great deal to recommend it. Especially when it comes to psychological therapy.
Here are 10 upsides to teletherapy during the devastating downsides of the COVID-19 pandemic.
1. Avoiding unnecessary health risks
This novel coronavirus is highly contagious and never before have we encountered one that can produce such vast range of severity. Some people are totally asymptomatic (meaning they have no symptoms at all yet can still spread the virus) while a great many become seriously ill and a lot of people die. The statistics vary greatly among countries and states, but in the United States, the death rate from COVID-19 currently stands at about 3 percent. Compare that with the CDC’s estimate of the seasonal flu’s lethality from 2018 to 2019 which was less than .001 percent. Hence, not having to meet face-to-face in a therapist’s office or wait in a waiting room probably saves lives. Imagine the irony of getting sick and possibly dying because you were trying to take care of your mental or behavioral health. Or a therapist dying because they were trying to alleviate people’s unhappiness or distress. A tragic irony that has already happened to some of our heroic frontline medical professionals.
2. Time savings and less stress
Not needing to drive to a therapist’s office saves a huge amount of time. A typical therapy session lasts 45 to 50 minutes. Yet when taking two-way travel into account, the time cost is often two hours or more. What’s more, teletherapy eliminates the pressure and stress of traveling to an appointment often during after-work rush hour or at other difficult times (e.g., inclement weather).
3. Environmental benefits and cost savings
Since people won’t have to drive as much, they’ll use less fossil fuel and conserve money as an added bonus. True, their home utility bill might be a bit higher but the net reduction in expense and greenhouse gas production is a significant benefit.
4. More flexibility with appointments
Many people find having to fit a therapy appointment into their workday a challenge. With teletherapy, however, it is much easier to “meet” at a time that ordinarily would be very hard to manage because people are often able to schedule an appointment during their lunch and find it easier to juggle parental responsibilities such as taxiing children.
5. No concerns about encountering someone in a waiting room
Some people are worried about being seen by someone they know in a therapist’s waiting room. This topic deserves a post unto itself, but suffice it to say this concern is completely eliminated by teletherapy.
6. People can receive services from a particular clinician who works too far away to travel to, and may even be able to see specialists in another state
Over the years I have had requests to treat people who live two or more hours away from my office. In the past, with few exceptions, I helped them find another therapist who practiced much closer to their vicinity. Now, it is no problem for me to provide services remotely in such circumstances. And depending on State Board and insurance company emergency measures, some people can receive treatment from out-of-state providers.
7. Easier to involve family members and significant others in the therapy
Sometimes it is very helpful to involve family members and other close people in a person’s individual therapy. For example, when treating people who are being enabled or obstructed by (usually well intentioned) relatives, partners or friends. Also, in some cases (e.g., doing exposure therapy with OCD sufferers), recruiting a significant other to aid in the process can advance the therapy faster.
8. Can do more naturalistic exposure therapy with some clients
And speaking of exposure therapy with OCD patients (depending on their rituals, of course), when therapeutic challenges take place in the person’s home or natural setting, rather than the therapist’s office, the therapy can be much more effective.
9. Can better gauge a client’s “activities of daily living” (ADLs) and their home environment
ADLs refer to basic self-care and key tasks that people need to manage to live independently. Typical ADLs include things like dressing, grooming, hygiene, and home maintenance (to name only a few). These matters are especially important when treating the elderly and people with severe or incapacitating problems (e.g., schizophrenia, severe depression or extreme anxiety). Being able to literally, albeit remotely, see clients or patients in their homes can provide a much clearer picture of how they are functioning than can be gleaned by observation and self-report in the therapist’s office. Also, a clinician can determine if undisclosed issues such as hoarding or serious disorganization are complicating the therapy so they too can become a focus of attention.
10. Not having to coordinate rides, rely upon ride services or mass transit
Teletherapy can be especially helpful for the elderly or others with certain disabilities or limitations who cannot drive themselves to appointments. In addition, it is much easier for parents who don’t have to juggle driving their children to sessions.
Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!
Copyright 2020 Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for help from a qualified health professional. The advertisements in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me.
Many thanks to my wife, Donna-Astor Lazarus, LCSW, who contributed to this post.