For a variety of reasons including the number of available mental health professionals, along with geographic and economic constraints, the demand for quality therapy is at an all time high. Thankfully, with great leaps in technology, including high-speed internet and mobile devices the concept of telehealth stands to greatly expand the availability of mental health services for many. Telehealth, or online counseling, as it has come to be known, is very much what you likely imagine it to be. It is the use of distance beyond your provider’s office. It is a concept that, while not new, has proliferated with the technological of the last thirty years. There are a number of apps that are available that can supplement therapy as a way to use tools to enhance their treatment. More than apps however, counseling via online video portals has gained in popularity.
While most picture it as your average Skype session, there is the important additional layer of privacy. Privacy laws require portals more secure than Skype. The added online security required helps make a session a safer and more productive space. Surprisingly video based counseling sessions are not new at all. Tele-medicine first originated in the field of psychiatry and has been greatly utilized in this field for years, with the initial use at the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute in 1959 using closed circuit televisions.
How it works
The sessions themselves function like any other counseling session would. With the exception that the client gets to have their session in a comfortable and secure space of their choosing. It is a requirement that both parties be in a private room with no disruptions. Many states require some type of training on telehealth and that the provider is licensed in the state that the client resides in. There are many virtual options that easily accessible in which you can sign in and start your session)
Benefits of online counseling
Online Counseling presents a wide array of benefits for both clients and mental health professionals. According to the HRSA the benefits of telehealth are wide reaching. For professionals, the ability to be more available to their clients is a huge upside.
For clients the benefits are numerous:
No more geographic constraints
Universally speaking, one of the greatest things about modern technology is how it has brought us greater access to the world around us. There are many who would benefit greatly from counseling but are cut off from qualified professionals because they live in remote and rural areas. It has also proven to be a helpful tool for deployed military personnel as well as professionals who travel frequently allowing them to have more flexible hours, and not limited to an office.
Flexible scheduling means less time constraint
For those with more rigid schedules like 9-5ers and parents, one of the biggest frustrations with finding help are traditional office hours. For a mother who works until five and has to pick up her son at six it is almost impossible to get an appointment that fits into an already dense schedule. If you are in a high demanding career an entrepreneur, or travel frequently.
It's a lifeline for clients who can't travel
Whether it's due to a physical ailment or a mental condition, online counseling means not having to take extraordinary means to travel to a therapy session. This also goes a long way towards improving the quality of sessions by avoiding the mental and physical stress some associate with traveling even short distances.
It provides a means to keep your current therapist
Whether you are relocating for a new job or heading back to college maintaining continuity with your therapy sessions could be the difference between a stressful change or a smooth transition.
It can help those dealing with the stigma of therapy
As we discussed before here need not be any stigma when it comes to seeking mental health services. Despite this, for many, the potential for others to find out about your therapy can be a major roadblock to getting the help you need. Whether it's simply a matter of getting your feet wet or a permanent solution, online therapy is a great way to find help while maintaining an added level of privacy and in turn avoid some of the fear and stigma sometimes associated with counseling.
What about insurance?
Many insurance companies already see the value in online counseling and pay for all or most of the sessions. In addition, more and more insurance companies are following suit which makes accessing online therapy easier for everyone.
While online counseling is an effective tool for many clients it may not be for everyone. Clients with severe mental illness, uncomfortable with technology or in areas with particularly poor internet service may not be great candidates for online counseling. Additionally, clients in crisis aren't should seek face to face counseling. It is a good idea for anyone seeking therapy to get a mental health assessment in order to determine the best course of action for an individual's overall mental health.