The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created an influx of need for distance mental health services, like teletherapy. Teletherapy is the use of technology to deliver therapy services remotely. Teletherapy is usually done using video conferencing software (like Skype or Zoom), although some teletherapy may occur over the phone or through text messages.
Teletherapy has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to provide therapy services to people who may not be able to access them otherwise.
The benefits of teletherapy include ease of access and flexibility, while drawbacks include technology issues, differences with in-person therapy, security concerns, and potential distractions.
To decide if teletherapy is right for you, consider whether you have reliable technology, distract easily, and have access to a reliable private space to hold sessions.
Teletherapy has become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to provide therapy services to people who may not be able to access them otherwise. While teletherapy does have many benefits, it also has several drawbacks, which are discussed in detail below.
How does teletherapy work?
In many ways, teletherapy works quite similarly to in-person therapy. The therapist and client can see and hear each other in real-time and communicate just as they would in an in-person session.
Typically, teletherapy sessions are held using secure, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing software to ensure patient information privacy and integrity. A therapist can deliver many different kinds of therapy modalities over teletherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and even eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR).
Pros of teletherapy
Teletherapy has many benefits, as outlined below.
One of the most significant ways in which teletherapy differs from in-person therapy is in the setting. When you participate in teletherapy, you can be in the comfort of your home or wherever you feel most comfortable. Teletherapy can be done from anywhere that has an internet connection. This means you don’t have to take time out of your busy schedule to travel to and from therapy appointments.
Easier access to treatment
Many people have difficulty accessing therapy because they have difficulty leaving the house, have busy schedules, or live in rural areas where access to in-person therapy can be difficult. Teletherapy can be a great benefit in this case. Teletherapy can also help people access specialists who live outside their local area, increasing their access to that treatment.
Some people may find it less vulnerable to discuss sensitive topics with a therapist online rather than in person. Additionally, they may feel like they can more easily express themselves without judgment from a therapist who they have not met in person. This can make teletherapy a good option for people who feel more comfortable with the distance teletherapy provides.
Despite the benefits of teletherapy, there are also several drawbacks.
Not the same as in person
One of the primary downsides is the lack of personal interaction. There is no face-to-face interaction when you are meeting with a therapist online, even with live video conferencing. This can make it challenging to build a rapport with your therapist and can also make it harder to open up about personal issues. Developing a strong, collaborative relationship with your therapist -also called the therapeutic alliance - is one of the strongest predictors of therapy’s success. While it’s still possible to have a strong therapeutic alliance using teletherapy, it might take longer to build that relationship.
Teletherapy can be prone to issues with technology. If you are meeting with your therapist online, there is a chance that your internet connection could drop or that your power could go out. Encountering these technology issues can impede a teletherapy session in ways that in-person therapy cannot.
Technology may also prove a distraction during teletherapy sessions. If you meet with a therapist on your computer, you may become distracted by e-mail alerts or other notifications on your screen. Beyond technology, pets, children, and others in your household may also create burdensome distractions during teletherapy sessions.
Security of information
While therapy practices do their best to maintain patient information confidentiality and security, teletherapy increases the risk of potential security breaches. Hackers are always looking for ways to access people's personal information. They may try to hack into the teletherapy software or the therapist's computer. If they are successful, they could access your confidential information, including your medical records. You should always make sure that the software you are using is secure and that your therapist is taking steps to protect your information.
How to decide if teletherapy is right for you?
Teletherapy is not for everyone, but it does benefit many people. Here are some questions to help you decide if teletherapy is right for you:
Do you have a reliable private space for therapy sessions? If you do not have a private space where you can focus on your therapy session, feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics, and not be interrupted, teletherapy may not be the best option for you.
Do you have reliable technology (computer, wifi, etc.)? If your internet is unreliable or your computer is always breaking, teletherapy might not be the best fit for you. A choppy connection or poor-quality audio will impede teletherapy sessions and make progress more difficult.
Do you distract easily? If you tend to be easily distracted, teletherapy may not be the best option for you. You may have difficulty paying attention to the therapist and the conversation and may end up missing important points. In-person therapy might be a better option for you.
Do you think teletherapy will be “easier” than in-person therapy? Teletherapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy and still requires you to do the hard work of examining unhelpful thinking patterns and changing your behaviors. If you're looking for a quick fix, you'll likely be disappointed.