Telemental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Four tips for transitioning to virtual therapy during the COVID-19 crisis.
Posted April 7, 2020
Within the last decade, telemental health has been utilized to meet client needs by improving convenience and accessibility to quality care.
Studies have shown that well-designed telehealth therapy can:
- Enhance satisfaction
- Improve access and outcomes
- Be utilized for a variety of populations and disorders
- Be just as effective as in-person therapy
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many providers have swiftly transitioned to offering online therapy in order to help individuals continue to foster their mental well-being while abiding by social distancing guidelines and flattening the curve.
While these sessions can provide benefits to care, utilizing an online platform for therapy does come with unique considerations, especially in the current climate in which many are transitioning quickly to remote services. If you will be receiving teletherapy as an adjustment during the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some points to consider to help you ease your transition.
While you may not need to determine the amount of time needed to travel to your therapist’s office and arrive with ample time to park or check-in, telemental health comes with its unique logistics. While your therapist is responsible for the office space, you are now responsible for finding and securing a quiet, secure environment in which you will feel safe to share. In addition, you and your provider need to have the necessary equipment to support a remote session such as a device with high-speed Wi-Fi, a camera with high resolution, and a quality microphone.
In a traditional session, there may be protocol for handling concerns such as hitting traffic on the way to the session; for virtual therapy, you may need to learn methods for troubleshooting connection concerns. This is particularly important in this current moment due to the high-saturation as a result of the increase of individuals working from home due to state guidelines for COVID-19.
Most therapists invest a great deal of intention and care when curating their office space. While part of this is because the office is an extension of the owner, it is also because the environment affects therapy as well. Think about the impressions you have gathered about your therapist’s office and what works for you to help you feel comfortable in the session. Perhaps it’s the color palette, the comfort of the chair you usually sit in, or the aromatherapy infused in the air.
In a telemental health scenario, you now have a shared responsibility for creating a therapeutic space for your session. Beyond aesthetics, consider the aspects of the area that may help you feel comfortable to share. If someone else is home, perhaps you may ask them to provide you with space while they listen to music or watch TV while you close the door and utilize headphones.
A key aspect that affects effectiveness in therapy is rapport. The connection often functions as a signal to help someone recognize that there is trust and security in the bond to carefully and thoughtfully explore the sensitive topics that must be addressed in therapy. This conclusion is derived from more than words, and body language plays a big role.
A clear benefit of video calls versus phone calls is the ability to see your provider and these cues. However, eye contact, expressions, body position, gestures, voice tone, and silence may all be slightly skewed via telehealth. A common way these become distorted is due to an internet connectivity concern.
Nevertheless, even with a stable connection, key aspects of body language may be different in virtual sessions. For example, while you may intend to hold eye contact since the appearance of eye contact would mean you are looking at the camera rather than the other person. While you may still use gestures, these may be hidden from view. On the other hand, since much of body language is limited via virtual therapy, this may cause an overemphasis on what can be seen. For example, a stretch or looking off-camera could be emphasized due to being in view and this could be misinterpreted.
Without considering these aspects are normal conditions in the online therapy context, you may feel disconnected from your helper.
Training and experience
While your therapist may have the appropriate degree, years of expertise and training, and the proper license to practice in your state this may not mean that your provider is seasoned in telehealth services. While telemental health was offered pre-COVID-19, social distancing requirements caused a surge in need for online services. During this time, many therapists rose to the occasion to best help the individuals within their care. Generally speaking, therapists have an obligation to be informed about best practices in telemental health and a legal obligation to follow governmental guidelines. Bear in mind that as you are transitioning to telemental health, this may be a parallel process for your provider as well.
While telemental health has been shown to be just as effective as traditional therapy, there are still differences to expect as you transition to this method. If you have been partaking in face-to-face sessions and are transitioning as a result of COVID-19, it is absolutely normal to have an adjustment period. Nevertheless, for some of you, perhaps this new method opens your mind to the option of telehealth in the future — for example, if you’re planning to move to another town but hope to continue services with your therapist at that time. For others, this may be a temporary transition to allow you to seek the help you need while also doing your part to help flatten the curve.
Regardless, the nuances noted above are normal. Despite these changes, the ability to utilize teletherapy during the coronavirus pandemic is a privilege that allows you to continue your growth journey in a time in which much has been changed, postponed, or canceled.
This article was written for individuals who are transitioning to teletherapy from an in-person environment. If you are seeking to start sessions during this time, use the Psychology Today Therapy Directory to find a clinician who is offering telehealth services in your state.
Additional Resources for Providers: