After several weeks of minimal sleep, Dan finally got an emergency telehealth appointment with a psychiatrist. After 10 minutes of talking with him, she had me join the Zoom call and told me that I needed to take Dan to the nearest ER immediately for a psychiatric evaluation.
This virtual intervention saved his life, but the stress of helping my husband started to weigh on me. I needed a therapist for me, but I didn’t want to see one in person. I’ve always had a fear of going into doctor’s offices, a condition often colloquially referred to as “white coat syndrome.” My blood pressure goes up and my heart races when I need to see a medical professional. Also, I have a busy schedule with work and parenthood.
After months of research, I found a provider that offered the option of online therapy. I decided to give it a try, even though I was skeptical about revealing my feelings via a Zoom call. I worried that virtual sessions would ruin the intimacy of individual counseling and that a therapist would just be another talking head on a screen.
But right away I started noticing the benefits. For the first time in my life, I felt no anxiety before a therapy appointment. I found it comforting to talk to my counselor while wearing fuzzy slippers. And to my surprise, I was able to share my emotions through a screen much more easily than I ever could with a psychotherapist in person.
I realize that my experience runs counter to mainstream cultural ideas about “returning to normal” and the need to restore analog experiences. It is true that many therapists and patients are eager to return to in-person session rooms. However, others who would prefer to continue telehealth appointments find that the option is reduced. Emergency orders established by states as the pandemic took hold, which mandate telehealth visit coverage and allow out-of-state providers to participate, expire. And some private insurance companies have started to cut telehealth coverage.
But now is the time for the teletherapy option, in particular, to be vital, say many experts. Anxiety and depression rates increased by 25% global since the start of the pandemic, while at the same time there has been an alarming shortage of therapists taking on new clients.
Research shows that the use of teletherapy by psychologists has increased from 7.1% of their work before the pandemic to 85.5% of their work during the pandemic, according to a national study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and published in American Psychologist. And research indicates it can be as effective as in-person treatment, said Ashley Batastini, a psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Research at the University of Memphis.
Batastini analysis two decades of data comparing teletherapy and traditional treatment, for a wide range of diagnostic criteria, including depression and eating disorders. “We found no evidence that there is a difference between videoconferencing and in-person mental and behavioral health interventions,” Batastini said. In fact, based on the data, some women seem to have better results using videotherapy than in-person treatment, though Batastini says more study is needed.
The American Psychological Association supports the continued use of telepsychology, in a safe and private manner, said Lynn Bufka, associate chief of practice transformation for the APA. “We’ve had great experience for two years, and we’ve seen it work.”
Bufka added that the organization “advocates that telehealth should continue to be an equally paid option because there is no difference in the quality of services provided.”
Timothy Heckman, senior associate dean for research and faculty affairs at the University of Georgia, co-authored a study that found teletherapy produced large improvements in patient outcomes that persisted for several months post-treatment. end of treatment and were no different from the results reported by clients. who received in-person therapy. However, more research is needed with a more diverse group of clients, including those with PTSD, Heckman said.
The effectiveness of teletherapy isn’t the only reason it should continue, patients and practitioners say. The convenience of teletherapy is also a lifesaver for people who have difficulty getting to an in-person appointment – such as people who live in rural areas where practitioners are scarce, those who live in areas congested urban areas, those who have been exposed to or show symptoms of covid-19, and those who are disabled.
Pedro Ventura lives in Los Angeles and is quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury. Prior to his 2019 injury, the result of gun violence, he received in-person therapy, in New York and Los Angeles. In New York, he often commuted an hour and a half on the subway to get to his appointments.
Now Ventura no longer has to spend time traveling to an in-person appointment, nor does he have to worry about whether his therapist’s office is too small to comfortably accommodate his wheelchair. . “You don’t think about it when you’re not sitting down,” Ventura said. “But accessibility in an office is not always acquired.” Finding a new therapist was also easier online because he didn’t have to travel to multiple offices to interview potential counselors.
Ventura said he never misses being in the physical room with his therapist. “I feel like I can open pretty much the same thing on screen. A good therapist is a good therapist.
Los Angeles-based therapist Maria Evans sees all of her clients remotely, in part because she wants them to avoid the hassle of traffic. Early in the pandemic, Evans helped train more than 10,000 therapists and social workers who needed to switch to teletherapy.
In some cases, Evans thinks clients would be better served by going to an office to meet — if they don’t feel safe at home, for example, or if they don’t have privacy. But in most cases, she thinks teletherapy will suffice; she even had long-term patients whom she never met in person. When they broke up, she said, “There were a lot of tears. It shows that we are still able to bond as deeply as we would in person. »
While convenience is a huge factor, another important benefit of teletherapy is the increased comfort patients experience, which can allow them to open up more. For me, these are my fuzzy slippers; Santa Monica therapist Ashley Graber said she has clients whose pets join them for sessions. She also said online therapy helps her better understand a patient’s home life.
And it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Some patients benefit from a hybrid treatment. My husband, for example, prefers to see his therapist in person, feeling that he benefits from the connection. But he still has many behavioral health appointments online, saving him hours of driving each week.
However, I will continue my online therapy as long as my insurance pays for it, choosing healing from the comfort of home.
Amy Ettinger is the author of “Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America”. Find it on www.amyettinger.com.