Navigating Teletherapy: Your Essential Guide to Remote Counseling

10 minutes Written by Ann Dypiangco

In a world where your next meal is just a click away and dressing for work now means wearing a button-up with sweats for Zoom work meetings, mental health support has also undergone a digital revolution. Gone are the days when your only option was to hop in your car and drive to a therapist’s office for a counseling session.

Teletherapy has entered the scene, and it is here to stay. You can easily access mental health services from the comfort of your home—dress shirt not required. 

What is Teletherapy?

Teletherapy goes by many names—telepsychology, telemental health, tele-counseling, telehealth, online therapy, virtual therapy, online sessions, and remote therapy to name a few. These terms all describe the same service—psychotherapy sessions conducted using a digital platform. Like in-person therapy sessions, teletherapy sessions are synchronous, which means both the client and the therapist are present and engaging in conversation simultaneously. As with an in-person counseling session, teletherapy sessions are typically 45-55 minutes long and are bound to the same rules concerning confidentiality.

Telephonic therapy (aka a therapy session over the telephone) is a variation of teletherapy. As is synchronous text message-based mental health support with therapists. While this written form of support may be considered teletherapy, it is generally not advisable due to the incredible challenges in conveying an intended tone or meaning when discussing a topic with heavy emotional weight. In addition, this type of interaction can easily lead to misunderstandings about serious subject matter. This is why therapists typically try to limit written forms of communication with clients. Additionally, if a therapist does agree to provide text-based therapy services, expect detailed instructions setting clear expectations for using this service.

Do Therapists Have Special Training for Teletherapy?

Telemental health training and certification exist for psychotherapists interested in increasing their competency and skill in providing these services. Most states do not require intensive training programs to conduct teletherapy sessions. However, finding a therapist with this training is highly recommended when seeking teletherapy services. Teletherapy training programs ensure therapists have the necessary skills and knowledge to ethically and effectively deliver remote mental health care. In addition, professionals with a telemental health certificate are equipped to navigate the unique challenges and considerations involved in providing therapy through digital platforms, including learning about best practices in telemental health services, maintaining confidentiality, managing technology-related issues, and establishing a secure therapeutic environment. 

What are the Benefits of Teletherapy?

Teletherapy offers several advantages and conveniences compared to traditional in-person services, including:

  1. Accessibility. Teletherapy eliminates geographical barriers, enabling individuals in remote or underserved areas to access mental health services that may not be available in their local community. For those living in metropolitan areas, it avoids battling traffic or subway rides.
  2. Increased Options of Providers. Teletherapy expands the pool of therapists available to individuals, allowing them to find a therapist who aligns with their specific needs and preferences, or if a person wants to choose a therapist, they won’t risk running into them at the grocery store. 
  3. Convenience. With teletherapy, individuals can schedule therapy sessions at times that suit their schedules (such as their lunch break,) reducing the need for travel to and from sessions and time off work. 
  4. Comfort. Being in a familiar setting, such as one’s home, can enhance comfort and emotional readiness to open up during a therapy session and engage in honest, heartfelt communication. Not to mention the comfort provided by furry friends in the home. 
  5. Continuity of Care. Teletherapy makes long-distance therapeutic relationships possible, which can be helpful if you or your therapist ever move. So long as your therapist is licensed in the state where you are located, you can continue therapy with no interruptions. 

Does Teletherapy Have Any Downsides?

Teletherapy can present obstacles under some circumstances. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people nationwide opted for teletherapy services out of necessity. The need for social distancing broadly eliminated the option of in-person therapy sessions. However, as the pandemic has waned, therapy seekers have been presented with the possibility of accessing support online or meeting a therapist in person. This isn’t a decision to take lightly. Despite the many advantages of teletherapy, it is not the ideal choice for everyone for several reasons:

  1. Limited Technological Access. Teletherapy relies on reliable internet and consistent access to a phone, tablet, or laptop. Unstable internet connections can be incredibly disruptive to the flow of a session and interrupt what would otherwise be emotionally impactful moments.
  2. Minimal Tech Skills. You don’t need to know how to set up a router (or even know what a router is!) to log in to most teletherapy sessions. But suppose you’re a person who becomes easily overwhelmed with even the most basic of technological tasks, such as knowing how to unmute or position the camera so your therapist can see you. In that case, you might be better off with in-person services. 
  3. Safety Concerns & Crisis Situations. In urgent cases where crises require immediate support, in-person therapy may be more appropriate. Teletherapy may have limitations in providing immediate hands-on assistance or intervention. Additionally, if a teletherapist is unfamiliar with the emergency mental health services that are local to you, this could be a barrier to receiving an appropriate referral to much-needed crisis services.
  4. Need for In-Person Interactions. Some individuals find face-to-face interaction essential for building a strong therapeutic bond. If you feel more grounded and emotionally safe in the physical presence of another human when you’re doing your inner work, in-person therapy might be the way to go. Likewise, suppose your symptoms prevent you from leaving the house or socially isolate you. In that case, it can be helpful to have an in-person appointment built into the weekly schedule that compels you to get ready and leave the house to be in the company of another person. 
  5. Zoom Fatigue and Distraction. Many people now spend the majority of their workday on a screen. This can lead to physical exhaustion from looking at a screen, difficulty emotionally separating work from the rest of life, and high levels of distractibility with numerous notifications coming through at any given time. 

How Can I Make the Most of My Teletherapy Experience?

Signing up for therapy is a courageous action to take. The decision to do deep inner work is not one people take lightly. As such, when someone sets forth into their therapy journey, it’s common to want to get as much out of the experience as possible. Teletherapy is no different. 

Here’s how to get the most out of your teletherapy sessions.

  • Establish Privacy. Find a quiet and private space where your sessions won’t be interrupted. If a room with a door is not readily available, look at all your options. This can include your car, closet, or bathroom. By now, this is par for the course for any seasoned teletherapist.
  • Prevent Eavesdropping. Consider using headphones to enhance the confidentiality and emotional safety of your teletherapy session. You can also turn on soft music or a white noise machine to take it one step further. 
  • Test Technology in Advance. Ensure your internet connection is stable and review the instructions for using your therapist’s video platform. Test your video and audio settings before your session to ensure a smooth experience. 
  • Find a Teletherapist Who is a Good Fit. Teletherapy provides individuals with an even broader pool of therapists to choose from, which is a benefit—although having too many choices can also be overwhelming. Fortunately, Mental Health Match’s streamlined matching service makes finding a high-quality therapist easy. When looking for a therapist, here are a few things to remember. 
    • Personality fit is one of the most significant determinants of a person’s success in therapy (Flückiger C. et al., 2018.) Irrespective of everything else, find someone you feel emotionally safe with and have an easy time talking to. Most therapists offer a 15-minute free consultation where you can ask questions and get a good idea if they might be someone you would enjoy working with. 
    • Look for therapists who have training and experience providing therapy remotely. A teletherapist who chooses should be comfortable using technology and knowledgeable about the unique considerations of teletherapy.
    • Consider what you are looking for support with and seek a therapist with that specialization. Mental Health Match offers extensive filtering options to make this simple. 
    • Many therapeutic approaches can be successfully used in virtual settings. If you are interested in a particular modality (such as EMDR) ensure that your therapist has expertise in that modality. This brings us to…
  • Don’t Rule Out EMDR. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) is an evidence-based trauma treatment. As a psycho-sensory modality that uses bilateral stimulation on the body, it is often assumed that teletherapy is not conducive to this treatment. But this assumption is false! There is much research that demonstrates EMDR therapy is effective when delivered virtually. So what is the moral of the story? Don’t assume teletherapy doesn’t work with specific modalities you are interested in. When in doubt, ask a therapist with extensive training and experience with the model. 

Should I Use My Insurance to Cover Teletherapy?

The coverage of teletherapy by insurance varies depending on your specific insurance plan and location. Likewise, many individuals choose not to take insurance for several reasons. Here are some essential points to consider if you plan on using insurance. 

  • Billing Nuances. Teletherapy billing typically follows similar procedures as in-person therapy. However, check with your insurance provider before your first session to understand their specific requirements around teletherapy.
  • Individual Preferences. Some individuals choose not to use their insurance for teletherapy sessions. This is due to concerns about privacy, potential time limits, and other restrictions that can cause treatment disruptions. In addition, many people desire greater autonomy in their therapy choices which leads them to opt out of going through insurance. 
  • Licensing Laws. Therapists can only provide therapy in the states where they are licensed. This is true irrespective of whether or not you choose to use your insurance to pay for sessions. If a therapist who is not licensed in the state where you reside offers you therapeutic services, consider this a red flag and move on. 

Conclusion

Teletherapy represents a digital revolution in mental health support, offering accessibility, convenience, and expanded provider options. However, it is essential to consider individual preferences, technological capabilities, and your specific circumstances when deciding between teletherapy and in-person sessions. Whether seeking in-person or online therapy, Mental Health Match provides a streamlined platform to help find a therapist who aligns with your needs and preferences. When you’re ready to embark on your therapy journey, Mental Health Match is here to help you take your brave first step. 

SOURCES:

Hilty, D. M., Ferrer, D. C., Parish, M. B., Johnston, B., Callahan, E. J., & Yellowlees, P. M. (2020). The effectiveness of telemental health: A 2013–2018 systematic review. Telemedicine and e-Health, 26(10), 1247-1259.

Flückiger, C., Del Re, A. C., Wampold, B. E., & Horvath, A. O. (2018). The alliance in adult psychotherapy: A meta-analytic synthesis. Psychotherapy, 55(4), 316-340.

McGowan IW, Fisher N, Havens J, Proudlock S. An evaluation of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy delivered remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. BMC Psychiatry. 2021 Nov 11;21(1):560. doi: 10.1186/s12888-021-03571-x. PMID: 34763697; PMCID: PMC8581955.

Avatar Ann Dypiangco

Written by Ann Dypiangco

Ann is a psychotherapist making an impact at the intersection of mental health and Web3. After over 15 years of developing expertise and leading strong clinical teams in the mental health field, she pivoted to apply her deep knowledge of mental health in the tech industry.