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Teletherapy has been around for a while, but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, therapists all over adopted teletherapy as part of their practices to help ensure everyone’s safety.

At its most basic, teletherapy is therapy done over the phone or through a videoconferencing platform. It can be used for many types of therapy and has been found to be as effective as in-person therapy.

Teletherapy is therapy or mental health counseling that is done remotely rather than in person.

The same research review above showed that during teletherapy, your therapist conducts your therapy session via phone, videoconferencing, or through a designated telehealth platform. There are also designated apps that offer teletherapy that you access on your phone.

Any platform that your therapist uses should be private and not public-facing, like Facebook Live or something similar. Nonpublic facing platforms are best, particularly encrypted therapy platforms.

According to the Department of Health & Human Services, during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, teletherapists have also been allowed to use nonpublic facing platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts. To ensure the security and privacy of your conversations, the therapists use platforms that are compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). There are also private links that may have passwords to enter the video chats.

The session proceeds like it would with in-person therapy, with you getting to know your therapist and then asking questions and talking about what may be bothering you.

It might feel awkward at first, talking with your therapist over a screen or on the phone, but there are tips you can use to make it easier:

  • Protect your privacy by choosing a location where no one else can hear your conversation.
  • Find a spot free of distractions to help you to focus on the session.
  • Wearing headphones can help block out background noise.
  • Keep a notebook handy if you want to take notes on anything. Sometimes people find it harder to remember things over a screen.
  • Ask your therapist any questions about how the therapy will work, what to expect, and if your treatment goals will change at all from your in-person work, if you’re continuing therapy.
  • Try to keep a sense of humor — there’s often a learning curve to teletherapy for both therapist and client.

Finding a teletherapy professional

Finding a teletherapy professional can be overwhelming. There are ways to make the process less stressful and more organized.

Before you start, it’s worth writing down what you’re looking for: Are you looking for a therapist who practices in a certain modality, like cognitive behavioral therapy? Do you prefer a male or female therapist? Are you looking for a therapist who specializes in a certain area? These are all things to keep in mind. Here are some other suggestions:

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Teletherapy can be used for most conditions that in-person therapy also treats. It has been found to be comparable to in-person care, according to a 2013 research review. It can be used as part of treatment for depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.

Especially for people with chronic health conditions and those recovering from diseases like breast cancer, teletherapy can improve access. It can be hard to travel to the office. Treatment may make individuals more susceptible to infection, and staying home can help keep them healthy.

For people living in rural areas, teletherapy can provide access to mental health professionals and virtual support groups.

Teletherapy may also be an option for services other than mental health, such as speech and language therapy and occupational therapy.

Teletherapy may also be a part of treatment for many conditions, such as:

  • autism
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • aphasia
  • anxiety
  • learning differences
  • conditions affecting speech
  • conditions affecting thinking

There are various advantages of teletherapy. Depending on a person’s needs and situation, the advantages can vary, but here are some to think about:

  • It can be more accessible to people who are physically ill, not able to easily leave the house, or people with small children who can’t get a babysitter.
  • Through various platforms like Talkspace or Betterhelp, it may be cheaper than going through your insurance company or paying an in-person professional privately.
  • It’s more convenient than traveling to in-person therapy and offers more flexibility because you don’t have to worry about adding travel or wait times.
  • There may be more privacy because you don’t have to sit in waiting rooms but are in the privacy of your own home.

As with any kind of healthcare, there are also disadvantages to teletherapy. This can vary widely among people, as everyone has different preferences for care. Here are some disadvantages to consider:

  • Some people may feel a lack of in-person connection.
  • The cues in teletherapy are different than cues from in-person therapy since the therapist and client are interacting over the screen, and may take time to get used to.
  • There may be more distractions with teletherapy with background noise, other people, or pets.

Teletherapy is an important tool in mental health. It can be just as effective as in-person therapy. While it may take some time to get used to, it can be valuable for many people, especially people recovering from illness or living with illness, and people in rural areas. It improves access to care and can be used in the privacy of your own home.