May 15, 2020 | by Thea Banis
The Reawakening of Teletherapy
By Thea Banis
The coronavirus outbreak has forced millions of us to isolate ourselves from others with whom we usually interact with daily outside of our household. With social distancing measures in place, alongside mandated stay-at-home orders, the ability to continue traditional therapy sessions is no longer a feasible option. While a temporary halt in these sessions is tolerable, it has the potential of hindering progress in individuals trying to overcome personal obstacles.
In these increasingly stressful times, the priority of fostering a happy & healthy mind is even more vital. This leads to the question, where do you continue or find mental health providers if traditional sessions are no longer an option? I introduce you to the reawakening of teletherapy.
As early as 2006, teletherapy has been utilized by those living in remote areas where access to mental health services have not readily available. With a majority of America being in lockdown this mode of therapy is now becoming even more popular.
Teletherapy is the online delivery of speech, occupational, and mental health therapy services via live video conferencing. The services offered are the same as an in-person session, but through your electronic devices. This option not only benefits the recipient in being able to communicate with their provider wherever they are, but also allows the provider to reach more individuals without limitations in scheduling around their office space. In addition, teletherapy offers the opportunity for individuals who have had prior accessibility issues with regards to seeking therapy in traditional settings. While office spaces try to embody a comfortable environment, some may unintentionally be stressful for an individual with prior trauma triggers or external stimuli sensitivities. Thus, when discussing personal obstacles and vulnerabilities with a provider, teletherapy may be the best option for people to stay wherever they feel the safest in the process.
When discussing access to teletherapy, one of the main barriers individuals face is insurance coverage for these services. State policymakers are now focusing their attention on such barriers. According to the American Hospital Association, thirty-five states & the District of Columbia have enacted “parity” laws requiring health insurers to cover services provided via telehealth the same way they would reimburse for services provided in person. These policies support the concept that all individuals have the right to access, including the use of assistive technology. However, it still is important to acknowledge that there still remain barriers to those without insurance coverage or personal devices to stream on these platforms. Hopefully, with the continued push towards policy changes, this movement will bring awareness to the barriers to therapy that still remain.
With increasing demands in teletherapy and its affordability, how do you know these telecommunication services are secure? Recent cyber-attacks on sites using video feeds such as Ring, Zoom, and Tik Tok continue to raise concerns about privacy on personal data, especially when considering online therapy sessions. While there will always remain to be vulnerabilities within any online site, telemedicine servers often have several encryption methods and firewalls to protect your information. Many of their servers are even including virus protection apps in conjunction with their streaming platform to ensure a client’s device doesn’t introduce such vulnerabilities. Additionally, it should be noted that teletherapy is not a new idea and its services have been used for years prior to COVID-19. While advertisement for teletherapy services has increased for companies such as Talkspace, Betterhelp, ReGain, and Amwell; this does not mean they never existed prior to 2020. VSee, an older telemedicine solution platform has been around since 2008, providing video communications between health providers and our NASA astronauts on the Space Station. This platform has been the leading template for other teletherapy services on what it means to be HIPPA compliant in terms of telemedicine.
If you are considering finding a provider in teletherapy, it is recommended you do research on who you want that to be. Psychologists & Therapists have their own specialties, so finding one for you is an extremely personal experience. In the different teletherapy platforms mentioned above, it is stated that all of their licensed mental health personnel listed work independently. This is important information to have in the process because having an experience with one provider may be vastly different in comparison to another on the same exact site.
The popularity of teletherapy has increased substantially amid this pandemic. With more states’ putting equal coverage policies into law, having access to therapy will no longer be dependent on the location of the client or provider. While our new normal continues to evolve, this reawakening of teletherapy is something we all can be grateful for.
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