Telehealth (online counseling) has been around for years and has been increasing in popularity. We have all been greatly impacted by COVID-19 and with orders to shelter in place, Teletherapy provides a good option for many people to follow the order and continue with their treatment. Historically, telehealth has been used when geographic, physical, or medical barriers prevented clients from obtaining face-to-face counseling and often required special approval from insurance companies. For example, the American Psychology Association (APA) center reported a 500% increase in Telehealth in 2008. However, more insurance providers now recognize the convenience and effectiveness of online counseling and reimburse for telehealth.
Research demonstrates that Telehealth can be as effective as in-person counseling- especially for individuals who struggle with PTSD and anger management. Furthermore, some clients report having a high satisfaction level and correspondingly good outcomes when utilizing Telehealth services than when compared to face-to-face counseling. Consequently, the benefits that clients experience with Telehealth seem to be similar to those experienced in face-to-face counseling.
Benefits of Telehealth Counseling
- Convenience – Clients can attend appointments from virtually anywhere. This increases accessibility for individuals who may have difficulty attending face-to-face sessions because of busy schedules or living far away from available mental health services.
- Transportation– Counseling services may not always be readily available in all communities and transportation issues may further hinder accessibility to needed services. The APA reported that “nearly 80 million American lives in a mental health professional shortage area.” Distance and transportation limitations can hinder clients from seeking help or continuing care. Telehealth allows clients to find the support and services they need without having to travel. Also, Telehealth enables providers to assist clients that might otherwise be unable to access services.
- Relocating– Some clients are concerned about changing therapists or counselors when they relocate to another address, city, state, or even country. Telehealth may allow clients to continue care with a trusted provider in many instances (although state laws may limit Telehealth in some circumstances).
- Fewer missed appointments– Clients miss scheduled appointments for a variety of reasons. However, Telehealth reduces common obstacles to accessing services including traffic congestion, drive time, childcare, etc. Convenience may help clients achieve desired treatment outcomes through compliance with treatment recommendations including appointment consistency.
- No wait time – clients can attend sessions without waiting to check-in, or spend time in a waiting area.
- Illness– Clients can avoid exposure to illness, colds, and flu by engaging in services without going out in public. This can be beneficial during peak cold and flu season and particularly important for compliance with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Clients can attend therapy sessions from the convenience of home or the privacy of their own vehicle.
- Avoid stigma and embarrassment– The stigma of seeking mental health services has decreased over the years and more and more people now experience the benefits of counseling. However, some clients, especially new clients, may still feel some anxiety or stigma with seeking counseling services. Typically, client anxiety centers around the unknown including physical location, office space and environment, people at the office location, and what to expect in a session. Some clients also are anxious about the possibility of running into someone they know when seeking mental health services. Telehealth can reduce some of the normal anxiety associated concerns like these because the client can access services from the privacy and security of familiar surroundings at home or elsewhere.
- Home Bound– Agoraphobic clients that have a fear of leaving home could benefit from counseling sessions from home while working towards reducing fear and anxiety in order to regain the freedom to leave home when desired. Further, clients with mobility concerns or issues can access needed services. For example, a high fall risk elderly client during an ice storm or a client in assisted living during COVID-19 lockdown can still obtain desired mental health services.
Research suggests that Telehealth can be as effective as face-to-face counseling and offers the convenience of online counseling to many clients who might otherwise not obtain services. Furthermore, Telehealth is especially beneficial during the COVID-19 crisis because it helps clients comply with social distancing guidelines while also benefitting from counseling services during these unprecedented and anxiety producing times.