Does Telehealth Mental Health Therapy Work?


What is Telehealth Mental Health Therapy?

As we move back into a post-pandemic world, it’s natural to want to hold onto some of the conveniences offered by the remote world. For many, this applies to the way they engage in mental health therapy services.

Whether you don’t want to give up the newfound time saved from commuting, the privacy retained by not meeting in public, the flexibility needed for childcare, or the comforts of home while diving into deep therapy work, telehealth offers countless conveniences and is here to stay.

While the conveniences are clear, there is an important question we have to address- what do we actually know about how effective therapy offered in this medium is to addressing the problems clients are focusing on? 

I’m going to share some research-backed answers to those questions so you can set yourself up for success in online therapy.

Does Telehealth Mental Health Therapy Work?

The research in the field has supported the efficacy of virtual therapy pre-pandemic. The findings since then only further support the effectiveness. Researchers found that the results of mental health therapy delivered using similar models of treatment produce similar results whether administered online or in-person. 

TLDR: Virtual mental health therapy works.

Here are highlights of some of those studies:

  • A published study in 2018 found that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), one of the most evidence-backed treatment models, was as effective when delivered online versus face to face for individuals struggling with depression, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
  • A published study in 2021 found that CBT was effective in treating adolescents with social anxiety disorder in both individual and group online settings, and had benefits of increased access to therapy, increased opportunity for certain interventions, and practice engaging over a virtual platform.
  • A published study in 2021 found that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (A.C.T.) interventions, another evidence-supported model of treatment, administered to youth online led to decreased depressive symptoms, increased life satisfaction, and greater psychological flexibility.

Research in the field of mental health therapy has consistently suggested that the strongest predictor of successful therapy is the rapport and trust built between the therapist and the client.

This rapport is the foundation for therapeutic success regardless of the treatment model.

Using online therapy methods, especially live virtual sessions on platforms, the therapist and the client are free to connect and build the trust necessary for sustained therapeutic changes and progress toward client goals, regardless of the client age or demographic factors.

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Benefits of Virtual Mental Health Therapy

Regardless of your situation or whether you are accustomed to mental health services online, the model has countless benefits to offer. Here are a few.

Increased access for individuals with limitations on transportation, work schedules, or parenting duties are able to join remote sessions.

There is also an increase of access for individuals who may have been limited by the symptoms of their anxiety to attend therapy in an office setting .

Increased privacy for individual and couples.

No more worrying about running into someone you know in the waiting room, or having someone see you walk into a therapy office.

The relief of not having to worry about whether you may have an awkward run-in can create more easy and safety throughout the process.

More convenience for clients to schedule. Sessions take about 50 minutes and no commuting time is needed, leaving more possibilities for time frames that work to attend sessions.

Many people are also more comfortable physically in their own space. They appreciate the ability to join from the comfort of their own home, and to create a space for healing and behavioral change they you live.

Because of the format of virtual therapy, clinicians may have more barriers to provide high levels of care in situations where that is needed.

As such, online therapy is not suitable for clients with certain mental health conditions. Such as suicidality or psychosis, who require a higher level of face-to-face support from their provider.

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Make the Most of your Telehealth Mental Health Therapy Sessions

Attending therapy at home might be a foreign idea for you, even if you are open to it. Here are tips to set yourself up for sessions to create a container for therapy work.

Give yourself ten minutes before and after your session. Give yourself some time to reflect, journal, have some water, go for a walk.

This time will help you prepare and process the session before moving into the rest of your day. 

Have a dedicated space where you join your therapy sessions. While it can feel comfortable to join from bed, you will get the most out of your sessions if you sit yourself up, ready to get engaged into the work.

For couples sessions, it is really important that both partners are in the same room during therapy sessions. A huge part of couples therapy is the conversations, eye contact, and physical touch between partners.

The therapist can administer this online, but both partners should be physically together for the therapeutic techniques to result in sustained change.

You may find you like to create a ritual to set the tone or intention for your sessions. This could be lighting a candle, stating a mantra, sipping on tea.

Anything that you find calming that can allow you to prepare for the transition from your day into your session will work.

Limit your outside distractions. Sessions typically run at least 50 minutes long. So for that amount of time, turn off your notifications, silence your phone, make yourself unreachable from work.

Seeing one text message while you are processing something in therapy can be detrimental in taking you out of the work you were focused on. 

With all of that said, make sure you are comfortable to sit for the duration of your session.

If sessions need to pause in the middle, the break in the cadence and rhythm could compromise what you are able to cover in the session.

Therapy sessions require your full, undivided attention. If you have young children who require supervision, consider finding childcare.

Find someone to support you for 50 minutes while you are in session.

How to Find an Online Therapist

If you live in the United States and you are interested in finding a virtual therapist, you will need to find a practitioner who is licensed in the state where you live.

Many local therapists offer online services. These providers can be safer to use than large technology companies where your personal information may be compromised. Here are some ways we recommend finding a provider:

  • Local Referrals: Seek out a therapist in your state who works for a private practice through word of mouth references (e.g. friends, your primary care physician, or any trusted healthcare providers) or a Google Search.
  • Online Directories: Search for therapists with openings based on your state. And the area of expertise you are looking for on Psychology Today, Therapy Den, or Open Path.

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