Gone are the days of dragging yourself to the doctor. Now, you can easily reach a professional from the comfort of your home via telehealth.
During the pandemic, three in 10 United States adults reported having symptoms of depression or anxiety since April 2020. Over 20% of adults reported substandard mental health and did not get professional help before the pandemic. This is where telehealth plays a momentous role in creating a healthy and obtainable mental health service.
With the pandemic came telehealth, or telemedicine, allowing patients to 'visit' their doctors without an in-person office trip. Folks can easily join with a computer or even on their phone to consult with a doctor and discuss further steps.
Telehealth is efficient in terms of saving time and energy needed to travel across town but is also a prominent method for those without transportation or individuals who reside in areas with insufficient medical professionals. Per the National Library of Medicine, many regions in the U.S. lack access to proper healthcare. Approximately 20% of people in the U.S. reside in rural areas, and only 9% of physicians provide service in rural regions. For this reason, many stick to home remedies when sick.
Aside from transportation or time-saved commuting, telehealth is a notable option for busy parents who cannot comfortably leave their homes or those who spend most of their days sitting in the office until late in the evening. It is especially an excellent option for older folks who do not have the physical capacity to constantly leave their homes and visit the doctor when they’re the ones that typically need the most care.
Now, with the arrival of telehealth, people can easily come home to receive the medical care they need. Telehealth also allows patients to exchange secure messages with medical professionals without calling or visiting the office.
According to Mental Health America, teletherapy was especially beneficial to adolescents, ages 10 to 19, as they could receive help online, where they generally felt safe. Adolescents are used to going on their computers and phones, and teletherapy means they can utilize the same comfortable platform to gain help. Instead of being driven by their parents to drive to the therapy office, they could easily sit in their beds and turn on their computers for an hour of therapy.
Nicoletta Heidegger, M.A., a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Sexologist practicing in Los Angeles, California, said she also hopped on the telehealth bandwagon and saw its impact on therapy.
"I provide telehealth via video. I don't do phone sessions in most cases as I need to be able to see and track folk's bodies. I am trained in TRM levels 1 and 2 and in the beginner levels of Somatic Experiencing, and having, seeing, and working with the body in session is so important as it gives essential information," says Heidegger.
Although telehealth is a great option for many, it does have limitations. In-person visits may be needed to do certain exams and tests, and telehealth lacks in that area.
Heidegger says, "I also decided to start training in and subsequently facilitating outdoor and ecotherapy sessions as well as Equine Assisted Psychotherapy during the pandemic. For some clients who are in crisis or need more support, telehealth is not ethical or sufficient. I am also not a fan of text therapy in most cases, as I believe that we miss a huge amount of information exchanged via attuning face-to-face with another human.”
Many people prefer that their therapist see their in-person actions and vice versa. Therapists notice hand motions, fidgeting, and how someone talks, dresses or presents themselves during in-person sessions. All these actions are very limited with just a screen.
But she does say that therapies like trauma work are beneficial if the client is at home amongst grounding and familiar tools. Additionally, sex therapy at home is much easier since clients can be comfortable doing exercises in their own space.
She says, "Telehealth has forced me to become more creative and playful, and I think this has made me a better therapist. That being said, there is an unseen energetic quality that comes with in-person that I think I will always prefer."
How has telehealth helped individuals in the U.S.?
A 30-year-old individual from Boston, David*, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he began therapy during the pandemic. "With remote work and limited social interactions, I had such difficulty getting the energy I needed to complete daily tasks. My family was all the way across the country, and I obviously couldn’t fly to go see them. Getting used to remote work was also difficult, which is when my friend recommended I get some therapy."
He continues, "I didn’t even know teletherapy existed until then, and it was definitely life-changing. I not only talked about the things that were happening then but also got to let everything out from the past in general. I never even thought about going to therapy because my 9 to 5 was more like an 8 to 7, leaving me pretty much exhausted once I came home."
Although it took him a long to get used to the pandemic and this new way of life, he’s glad that he got to involve himself in teletherapy and unravel what was inside him emotionally and mentally.
"If it wasn’t for teletherapy, I don’t think I’d have ever gone to therapy. My day consisted of waking up, heading straight to work, working for like 10 hours, and coming home to just collapse on my bed. It is truly a miracle that telehealth became widely known during the pandemic because I know a lot of people who benefited from it."
Heidegger says prior to the pandemic, she "only rarely offered telehealth prior to COVID-19, and now it is at least 70% of [her] practice."
Telehealth has allowed physicians and patients to receive necessary help during the difficult times of COVID-19. It was a turning point in the medical industry, utilizing software systems to connect both parties without much trouble. Telehealth can potentially become even bigger, positively impacting the medical field.
Heidegger says she and her colleagues saw an increase in clients during and after the pandemic as well. "In addition to telehealth, I also saw more therapists (myself included) feel more permission to think outside the box and try on unique types of experiential therapies such as walk and talk, and ecotherapy. I do hope that state-to-state therapy regulations change beyond the emergency state so that clients who are traveling or move to another state can continue working with their therapist."
As Heidegger mentions, there are indeed limitations when it comes to teletherapy, especially when so much of therapy is building rapport and trust with one another. As a result, sitting in front of a screen isn't for everyone. Despite some cons, telehealth has saved many people from developing their symptoms at home and it opens up the future of therapy and the possibilities that may arise in the professional field.
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