By Scott Bragg
The advent of video chat software platforms have led to changes in the delivery of healthcare. In particular, mental health providers, such as therapists and psychiatrists, now provide these services online. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this need for services given the restrictions that have put forth due to social distancing.
There are pros and cons to consider before deciding to participate in online therapy. Let’s start with the cons……..
1. Tech. issues
The internet, while allowing us to connect remotely during the pandemic, leads us to be at the mercy of technology issues that we have little or no control over. Nuisances occur, such as, video calls being dropped, lag times (the delay between our words being received by the other party), and links to sessions not working. Also, from the therapist’s perspective, it has been a learning process for me as well.
2. Sacrifice face to face impact
There are some major limitations to conducting therapy over the internet. I strongly believe that the most important important limitation is that both parties are not in the same room should an emergency occur. An emergency could consist medically or psychiatrically (ie. the patient has suicidal thoughts). It is vital for the therapist to be aware of the patient/client’s address while doing remote therapy. Knowing the address allows the therapist to notify 911 and/or other emergency contacts of the individual’s whereabouts as needed.
Video therapy puts individuals in unfamiliar territory. Meanwhile, therapists are uncomfortable when using these platforms initially. Both parties may be self-conscious while looking at ourselves on camera while showing our home in the background.
Make sense? Now, let’s take a look at the pro’s.
Therapy from a remote location grants at least one party the opportunity to conduct the session at home or at a neutral venue. Of course, this allows the individual to not have to travel to the destination of the therapist’s office. The familiar room may offset other issues when it comes to comfort.
Video also provides opportunities for therapy that would not likely exist by sole use at the thearpist’s office. For instance, the process allows for a wider range between both parties. Using teletherapy, the only major restriction in terms of distance is that the patient needs to be located in the state that the professional is licensed. This scenario is likely most useful in the event that a long-time client were to move within the state. It would allow the therapist to continue to conduct therapy with an individual.
3. Non-verbal cues.
Facial expressions are easier to detect, in some ways, due to the individual being close up on the device while using video therapy. This advantage may seem one-sided. However, when the therapist notices subtle gestures, such as a client/patient “tearing up” briefly, the therapeutic impact is most likely enhanced.
There are many factors to look at before using online therapy for wellness. Examples of these factors include the extent of one’s mental health disorder(s), the individual’s insurance coverage for telehealth, access to internet connection, along with one’s established relationship with therapist (if there is no to begin with) before using online therapy. Finally, It is of utmost importance the platform used online is within the current HIPAA (privacy act) restrictions.
Scott Bragg is a Licensed Professional Counselor and certified drug and alcohol counselor (CAADC) in Pennsylvania.