Does telehealth mental health therapy work?
What is telehealth mental health therapy?
As we move back into a post-pandemic world, many clients prefer to hold on to some of the conveniences, especially for services like telehealth mental health therapy. (Virtual therapy can include mental health services offered through any non face-to-face medium.)
As a therapist, I notice the majority of my clients still preferred to meet for sessions online after the pandemic. Whether they didn’t want to give up the newfound time saved from commuting, the privacy retained by not meeting in public, the flexibility offered to parents needing childcare, or the comforts of home while diving into deep therapy work, I have seen this trend continue across gender, ages, and presenting problems of my clients.
Personally, I love the flexibility this model offers clients, as well as the support I can provide clients to implement behavioral changes within their own home (we always want the change to continue outside the therapy room!). But an important question to address- what do we actually know about how effective therapy offered in this medium is to addressing the problems clients are focusing on?
Do we know if telehealth mental health therapy really works?
In a word, yes! The research in the field has supported the efficacy of virtual therapy pre-pandemic, and 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. 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.
Benefits of virtual mental health therapy
There are so many of benefits to therapy offered in an online, virtual medium, for all different types of people and challenges. Some of the most common pros to this type of mental health treatment include:
- 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 need to worry about running into someone you know in the waiting room)
- More convenience for clients to schedule, as sessions take about 50 minutes and no commuting time is needed
- Ability to join from the comfort of your own home and create a space for healing and behavioral change where you live
Who is online therapy not for?
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.
How to make the most of your telehealth mental health therapy sessions
Now that we know virtual therapy is effective, you may be wondering how to make the most out of your sessions (and to derive the most value for your investment in therapy). The good news is that these factors are in your own control, and your therapist should guide you as well as you start working together.
As you start therapy, here are some ways to make the most of online sessions with your telehealth mental health therapist:
Give yourself ten minutes before and after your session. Give yourself some time to reflect, journal, have some water, go for a walk- to 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.
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, or anything that you find calming that can allow you to prepare for the transition from your day into your session, as well as out of your session back into your day.
Limit your outside distractions. Sessions typically run 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 to support you for 50 minutes while you are in session.
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.
How to find a 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 (the state that you will be physically located during the time of the session, in most cases).
Many local therapists offer online services, and 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 therapist– I recommend seeking 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. Take some time to read the provider’s website and see if they offer a free introductory call to determine if they are a good fit for you before you sign up for an intake session.
- 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
- University or affordable rate options– if you are looking for low-cost care, you can try reaching out to local universities to inquire about Master’s student services. These students are working toward a clinical degree and offer services with reduced rates under the supervision of a licensed provider, and can be a phenomenal option for low-cost care.
If you are interested in telehealth mental health therapy with our practice, we encourage you to sign up here for a complimentary 15-minute consultation call.