Online Tele-Therapy: Therapy Without Going to Your Therapist's Clinic
The last few years brought awareness to online teletherapy, bringing this form of therapy to popularity we haven't seen before! But while you've no doubt heard lots of ads for online therapy, you still might not be exactly sure what online tele-therapy is or how it works. Another thing that might add to the confusion is that it goes by many names—tele-health, online therapy, tele-therapy, and other variations of those terms. But the key is this type of therapy is basically just like traditional therapy, except you don't have to go to the therapist's clinic.
In this blog, we'll share with you what online tele-therapy is like and how it works, and provide several ways to get started with tele-therapy to start living your best life. We'll also discuss the limitations and ethics of tele-health and how to choose the right therapist for you.
What is online tele-therapy and how does it work?
Even before the pandemic, some licensed therapists were using online therapy to reach underserved populations or simply to provide a convenient therapy option for their busy patients. Online therapy simply involves logging into a private video chat and sharing a therapy session with your online therapist.
It can be done in the comfort of your own home, in your office if you feel that it is private enough and you are comfortable there, in your (parked) car on your lunch break, or anywhere else where you feel comfortable and have access to the internet.
With the exception of some hands-on therapies like play therapy, your therapist can use all the same methodologies they would use in a brick-and-mortar office. Many tele-therapy providers use a similar process as they do in-person for allowing patients to try out a therapist, and then try out another if it doesn't seem like it's a good fit. At Evolve, we offer a free 15-minute phone or online consultation in which we can determine together whether teletherapy can be an effective and appropriate fit for you.
When you schedule an appointment with an online therapist, just like with other mental health professionals, you'll have an initial evaluation, where the therapist will get to know you a bit and determine what the best path forward is for treatment. For many mental health concerns, therapy doesn't have to be a forever thing.. Your therapist will determine what they think a reasonable treatment period is, and help you establish goals and checkpoints to keep track of your progress along the way.
Therapy takes place in 50-minute sessions. We will dive into more details later on how these sessions are secure and private.
What are the benefits of online tele-therapy?
There are many benefits it online tele-therapy that it's hard to know where to start! Verywellmind shared that studies are showing that online therapy is as beneficial as traditional therapy for many mental health conditions. Here are some of the other reasons why people gravitate towards tele-health therapy.
It's ideal for people with busy schedules that can't sneak away.
If you've ever thought about trying therapy but just don't know how you could fit it into your already busy schedule, tele-therapy could be ideal for you. Just schedule your therapy session for between two meetings, on your lunch break, or during that hour right after work before you head on to your next activity. Tele-therapy takes away the drive time of going to your therapist's office and allows you to get online counseling whenever you can fit it in from the convenience of an online platform.
It's a good intro to therapy for people who aren't comfortable with the idea of therapy.
While mental health care has certainly become less stigmatized, there still are many people who have never done therapy before and they're getting used to the idea of it. Online therapy platforms provide less of a barrier to entry for people because it feels a lot more familiar. Very few of us made it through the pandemic without our fair share of Zoom meetings, or at least plenty of personal conversations that happened over video chat. So for many people, video chat feels more comfortable and accessible.
Online therapy is perfect for people with physical limitations.
During the pandemic, we all experienced physical limitations—as there were portions of the pandemic where we weren't even supposed to be leaving our homes unless absolutely essential. We got just a tiny taste of what many people deal with on a regular basis—the inability to leave their homes due to medical reasons.
But just like many of us experienced at the height of the pandemic, people who have physical limitations obviously still have relationships issues, gender identity issues, mental illness, and other issues that can improve with mental health services. Online tele-therapy's ability to reach this population is one of its largest advantages.
Online tele-therapy is ideal for people in rural communities.
Before the advent of online therapy, people living in rural communities often had very few options when it came to mental health care. They could either see the counselors available in their area (who may or may not specialize in their specific mental illness or presenting problem), travel to a larger city with more therapists to get the care they need, or just let their concerns go untreated.
With tele-health, you can receive mental health services that specializes in exactly what you need to address, without having to see a therapist in your physical location. Tele-therapy is a mental health game-changer for people living in rural communities. You can see a licensed therapist that treats bipolar disorder or talk to a counselor who specialized in relationship issues or whatever specific thing you want to address. Your pool of therapists goes from just a few available locally to the countless mental health professionals available to you online.
Tele-therapy can be more affordable.
For many people, the main concern with beginning therapy is the cost. Different states have different rules about covering therapy. And of course, coverage varies from insurance plan to insurance plan as well as between different insurance companies. Do you have a certain number of visits covered with your insurance plan? Do you pay a co-pay? What about deductibles? All of these are good questions to ask and can help you determine the type of mental health services you may need.
You should be able to contact your insurance provider to learn more about your coverage. And while not all tele-therapy is covered by insurance, in general, it is a more affordable option. Some online therapy providers offer subscriptions that make ongoing services more affordable.
Here at Evolve, we have a low-cost counseling option of available for those who need it. Please inquire with us for more details as this may or may not be available for our teletherapy offering.
Limitations of tele-therapy
While there are many circumstances where tele-therapy has incredible benefits (often the same benefits as in-person therapy), it does have its limitations. One of the main concerns that people have is the security of their conversations. Every reputable online therapy company, as well as in-person mental health clinics that also offer tele-therapy, offer video chat sessions through a secure portal.
You're probably aware that everything in the medical world is regulated by HIPAA—the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Enacted in 1996, this act publicized standards for sharing health information electronically. HIPAA regulates interactions between healthcare providers and between the patient and provider. This protects patients as well as providers and is an important piece of tele-therapy.
At Evolve, we use HIPAA-compliant Zoom conferencing that protects your privacy for holding your sessions through online videoconferencing.
Privacy concerns with tele-therapy
While your therapy session is secure from the side of the provider and concerning your information on the web, some people still have privacy concerns on their own end. When you go to therapy in an office, no one in your life is going to overhear personal details from your therapy session.
When you participate in therapy in your own space, some people have a hard time getting alone or to a space, they feel is private enough to have sensitive conversations. And in cases of domestic abuse or where your own safety might be at risk, tele-therapy might not be a viable option for you. If you don't feel safe having your therapy session in your home or workplace, this is certainly something worth mentioning in your initial conversation with your therapist so you can find a good alternative. Many people use their car as a private space or some have a phone session.
Does tele-therapy work for all presenting problems?
We mentioned earlier that tele-therapy is as effective as in-person therapy in many cases. And the benefits of tele-therapy are numerous, as we listed before. Still, some cases truly see better results with in-person therapy if possible. This is something you can discuss with your therapist before beginning treatment.
Therapy with children, for example, is often much easier in person with a family therapist. Many techniques for therapy with children are hands-on and are much easier to do in person. That's not to say that creative social workers and professional counselors can't work out a way with the parents or guardians to make it work online. But it's certainly more straightforward in person.
Verywellmind also points out that,
"If you have a serious addiction or have more severe or complex symptoms of a mental health condition, online therapy may not be recommended unless other in-person therapies or treatments are also involved in your plan. The scope of online therapy can be limited, so it is may not effective for more complex situations."
And, if you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, more immediate help is available to you at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. And if you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
Your personal preference matters too.
At the end of the day, some people feel much more at ease with tele-therapy and others prefer to go in person if they can. For some people, that in-person interaction is an important piece of the effectiveness of the therapy. This is a matter of personal preference, so consider what feels best for you, along with what your insurance covers, what your availability is like, and your access to specific types of therapy when choosing between online and in-person therapy.
How to choose an online therapist
Choosing an online therapist is very similar to choosing an in-person therapist. As we mentioned, at Evolve, we begin with a 15-minute phone call to determine if tele-therapy is a good fit for you. But aside from that, here are several steps to follow when choosing a counselor.
Read provider bios online. If a therapist is working with a clinic, often the clinic website will provide short bios for each staffer so you can pick a practitioner that jives with you and matches what kinds of services you want.
Ask office staff who they think would be a good fit. Again, if you're looking into a therapy clinic, like Evolve, we have a client care coordinator, you can always call the office and ask who they think might be a good fit, as well as give you suggestions based on practitioner availability.
Don't judge a book by its cover. You may be surprised to find that the person you least expect is the therapist that can provide you with major breakthroughs. Don't write someone off because they don't have a big enough smile in their headshot (or whatever other first impressions you get).
Look for online reviews. Online reviews can be kind of sparse for mental health professionals because it's a fairly private service and people don't always want to be public about their therapy experience. Still, it doesn't hurt to look at reviews to see what others are saying.
Begin your tele-therapy journey today
If you're ready to take the next step with your mental health, online therapy might be just the thing for you! To get started with online therapy at Evolve, fill out the contact form found at the bottom of our home page. Or you can always give us a call at 612-875-6416 to schedule an appointment, and just to see if tele-therapy is right for you.