For most people, we understand the benefits and sometimes the necessity of seeking out therapy. It can be a rewarding and valuable experience, helping us to overcome challenges and barriers in life we might not be able to face on our own.
Unfortunately, seeking out therapy is still something many people find difficult for several reasons. Whether it’s the lingering social stigma of needing support with our mental health or simply finding the time and capacity to sit down with a therapist.
In our increasingly digitally connected world, we’re finding new ways to connect. Therapy is yet another area that has caught on to the power of digital connection and is already using it to help more people access the support they need.
This article contains:
- What is Teletherapy?
- Who is Teletherapy For?
- How Do Online Therapy Sessions Work?
- Are Teletherapy Sessions Private?
- Is Teletherapy as Effective as Face to Face Therapy?
- 4 Benefits of Teletherapy for Patients
- 4 Benefits of Teletherapy for Therapists
- 3 Online Therapy Software Platforms to Use
- A Take-Home Message
What is Teletherapy?
Goode and Shinkle (2019) created the following definition of teletherapy:
“Teletherapy is the online delivery of speech, occupational, and mental health therapy services via high-resolution, live video conferencing.”
Teletherapy, also known as online therapy, e-therapy, or video therapy, is therapy delivered through a virtual platform via a computer. If you’ve ever used FaceTime or Skype, it’s essentially the same thing – except more secure and with a qualified therapist or counselor at the other end instead of a distant friend or relative.
While it has grown in availability over the last few years, teletherapy has been around since the 1990s in the United States and is considered a highly effective method for therapy delivery.
Who is Teletherapy For?
Teletherapy is beneficial for a range of people, for a diverse set of circumstances or experiences, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, and mental health therapy.
It has been used for regular one-to-one therapy sessions but also used in group therapy sessions to support aging individuals diagnosed with HIV (Heckman et al., 2014). Another way teletherapy has been used has been in the delivery of behavioral training to caregivers of young people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Tse et al., 2015).
It is worth noting that teletherapy will not prove beneficial for all individuals in all circumstances. Many therapists recommend this as the first step towards therapy, especially for those seeking it for the first time and encourage participants to have open conversations with their therapist over whether this is the best pathway of support for them (Novotney, 2017).
How Do Online Therapy Sessions Work?
Teletherapy sessions work much the same way as traditional therapy sessions with only one significant difference – the therapist and the client are not in the same room.
Sessions are scheduled at an appropriate and suitable time and day for each party, who then log-in via an agreed, secure video platform. The therapist and client can see and hear each other in real-time during the session via the use of webcams and headsets. Through this virtual environment, they can interact with each other, and the therapist uses the same traditional techniques and activities they would use in a face-to-face therapy session (Goode and Shinkle, 2019).
As with face-to-face therapy, a client may only seek out the therapist for one session to deal with a current life situation, or they may agree to on-going sessions.
Are Teletherapy Sessions Private?
Therapists are ethically and legally bound by privacy laws to not share details about their teletherapy sessions with third parties, just as with face-to-face sessions. Therapists must ensure they are in a private and secure room before engaging in any teletherapy sessions. Sessions should not be recorded or shared, unless with explicit agreement from the patient.
From the patient end, it is also down to them to ensure they conduct their end of the session in an equally private area to ensure their confidentiality.
Some therapists have argued that teletherapy is more private than traditional face-to-face sessions, where patients who know each other have the potential to bump into each other on the premises where therapy takes place.
In terms of the security of the software used, therapists utilizing teletherapy must use specialized software that is fully encrypted, offering a high level of security and privacy. Any software that therapists use for telepsychology must be approved by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This is legislation that ensures data privacy and security for safeguarding medical information, including therapy.
Is Teletherapy as Effective as Face to Face Therapy?
How effective teletherapy is, really depends on the individual and their reasons for seeking therapy. Since it first began to be used as a treatment method more than 20 years ago, psychological research has explored the different ways teletherapy has been used, and it’s effectiveness.
Overall the research does support that teletherapy is just as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy for a range of circumstances.
A few key studies include:
- Wagner, Horn, and Maercker (2013) explored the benefits of teletherapy for supporting patients diagnosed with depression. Sixty-two patients were randomly assigned to two groups – one receiving teletherapy and the other receiving more traditional face to face therapy. The patients received eight sessions each, and at the end of their sessions, the group who received teletherapy showed a slightly higher percentage of reporting fewer depressive thoughts and feelings. After three months, the teletherapy group continued to report a decrease in depressive thoughts and feelings, compared to those treated traditionally who reported a minimal decrease.
- Acierno et al. (2014) studied the benefits of teletherapy for use in therapy with veterans experiencing PTSD. They worked with 132 veterans, asking them to complete a scale to measure PTSD and then randomly assigned them to one of two groups to receive 10-12 sessions of either face to face therapy or teletherapy. After three months and six months, respectively, the participants were asked to complete the PTSD scales again. At both points, the researchers found that those who were treated via teletherapy showed similar improvement to those treated face-to-face.
- Mitchel et al. (2008) worked with trained therapists to see if teletherapy could be effective with the treatment of patients experiencing bulimia nervosa. One hundred twenty-eight adults diagnosed with bulimia nervosa took part in the study and were randomly assigned to receive therapy either face-to-face or via teletherapy. Participants were asked to report if they were still participating in bingeing and purging behaviors after the initial sessions ended, three months later and twelve months later. The researchers found extremely minimal differences in recovery between the two groups.
Research to date shows very promising effectiveness for teletherapy, however many therapists stress that one of the critical components for successful therapy is the relationship between patient and therapist, and in-person connections can be vital for successful treatment. For individuals who experience difficulty forming relationships or struggle with social interaction, traditional face-to-face therapy could be more beneficial in overcoming these challenges.
4 Benefits of Teletherapy for Patients
Aside from its equal effectiveness as a therapy treatment, there are many other benefits to teletherapy for patients seeking it out. A few notable ones include:
1. Accessible to More People
For individuals living in rural communities, living with a disability that makes travel difficult, or those who are just unsure about trying therapy for the first time, teletherapy is a highly beneficial option. Teletherapy removes many of the barriers – physical, emotional, or mental – towards seeking out therapy and makes it accessible for more people.
Research has found that those who participate in teletherapy are also more likely to seek out face-to-face therapy as a result of a positive experience (Jones et al., 2014).
2. Offers Greater Flexibility
It’s easy to put off attending therapy when sessions are offered during limited office hours. For many people who already have a lot of commitments to juggle, seeking out this form of support can easily be bumped down the priority list. When a therapist can be readily available at a time that suits the patient, it offers greater flexibility and could even encourage more people to seek the right support when they need it most.
3. Reduced wait times
It might seem like a small benefit, but increased flexibility also means reduced waiting times for patients wanting to speak with a therapist urgently or for the first time. It can take a lot of courage making an appointment for therapy, and the less time someone has to wait, the more likely it will be they’ll follow through and get the help they need.
Taking time off from work to battle traffic while going to the therapist, wasting even more time in the waiting room, having the session, and then battling traffic to return to work, is also a huge deterrent to many. Being able to brew a quick coffee, step into a private room for the scheduled therapy session, and ready to return fairly soon to ‘work-mode’ is a much more viable solution for many office workers.
4. Creates a Safer Environment
That feeling of anxiety many experiences when sitting in the waiting room of the dentist or doctor surgery? It’s the same anxiety experienced when waiting for a therapy session. The process of going to a new environment to meet with a therapist can be a stressful one. Teletherapy alleviates this stress by allowing patients to familiarise themselves with the process in the comfort of their own home.
4 Benefits of Teletherapy for Therapists
Just as teletherapy has benefits for the patients that use it, it also has benefits for the therapists that deliver it. A few of these include:
1. Offers Greater Flexibility and Work-Life Balance
As with patients, the ability to work from the security of a home office or private therapy room offers therapists greater flexibility and availability to their patients. For therapists with multiple other life commitments, this flexible can make a huge difference in finding a positive work-life balance.
2. Lowers Overheads for Delivering Therapy
With teletherapy, the therapist can deliver from any location that works for them, so a private home office works well. By removing the need for an external office location, therapists can significantly reduce their overhead financial costs, meaning they can focus more on professional development and patient support.
3. Offers a Greater Sense of Safety
Therapists often take a risk when taking on new patients. People can react and behave in unexpected ways when working through the therapeutical process, and sometimes this can present itself in negative or even aggressive ways. For therapists working with new clients or clients with pre-diagnosed severe mental illness, teletherapy can allow them a safe distance to get to know the patient before moving to face-to-face therapy if deemed necessary.
4. Opens up New Opportunities and Areas of Specialism
Teletherapy also has the benefit of offering therapists the ability to work with new patients, anywhere in the world. This can help them find not only new patients but patients they might not otherwise get the opportunity to support and engage with. This could include patients in the prison service, remote schools or communities, or patients restricted to hospitals.
3 Online Therapy Software Platforms to Use
Any software used for teletherapy must meet the HIPAA legislation requirements, so things like Facetime and Skype are not suitable. Thankfully due to the benefits and effectiveness of teletherapy, there are several solutions available for therapists. While many of these platforms do charge usage fees, they can be quite minimal and worth investing in to ensure therapy is within expected privacy legislation.
Three of the most popular include:
Wecounsel.com is a platform that caters to supporting behavioral health therapy. The platform is completely HIPAA compliant and ranks highly for its encryption ranking that also exceeds expected standards. It offers variable pricing plans, depending on the number of users and desired functionality.
Thera-link.com is a prevalent platform and was developed specifically for use within the mental health field by two therapists, with support from a technology expert. Thera-link.com seeks to be the one-stop platform therapists need when coordinating teletherapy and includes features such as session invitations, calendar management, invoicing, and payment. It is also entirely HIPAA compliant.
Doxy.me has proven to be another popular and widely used platform for teletherapy, owing to its unique selling point that there are no downloads required for the patients. Therapists book in their session and send a fully encrypted link to the patients’ email that they click on. Once they click on the link, they’re in the meeting. Alongside audio and video, the platform also offers a live chat function, adding more value to the therapist-patient interaction. They are also fully HIPAA compliant.
A Take-Home Message
I hope after reading this article, you’ll have a clearer idea of teletherapy; it’s benefits and just how effective it can be for many people. There seems to be a false opinion that teletherapy isn’t as good as traditional face-to-face therapy, but in our digital world, it seems it can be a very positive solution for many people.
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from reading this, it’s that while the research is overwhelmingly in favor of teletherapy, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all method. Therapy is a deeply personal and individualized process, and what works for one won’t always work for another.
Have you had any experience with teletherapy? If you feel comfortable sharing, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.
- Acierno, R., Knapp, R., Tuerk, P., Gilmore, A. K., Lejuez, C., Ruggiero, K., et al. (2017). A non-inferiority trial of Prolonged Exposure for posttraumatic stress disorder: In-person versus home-based telehealth. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 89.
- Goode, H. and Shinkle, E. (2019). What is Teletherapy? A Helpful and Definitive Guide. Retrieved from: https://globalteletherapy.com/what-is-teletherapy/
- Heckman, B. D., Lovejoy, T. I., Heckman, T. G., Anderson, T., Grimes, T., Sutton, M., et al. (2014). The moderating role of sexual identity in group teletherapy for adults aging with HIV. Behav Med, 40(3).
- Jones, M., Kass, A. E., Trockel, M., Glass, A. I., Wilfley, D. E., and Taylor, C. B. (2014). A Population-Wide Screening and Tailored Intervention Platform for Eating Disorders on College Campuses: The Healthy Body Image Program. Retrieved from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07448481.2014.901330
- Mitchel, J. E., Crosby, R. D., Wonderlich, S. A., Crow, S., Lancaster, K., Simonich, H., Swan-Kremeier, L., Lynse, C., and Myers, T. C. (2008). A randomized trial comparing the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy for bulimia nervosa delivered via telemedicine versus face-to-face. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0005796708000326
- Novotney, A. (2017). A Growing Wave of Online Therapy. Retrieved from: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/02/online-therapy
- Tse, Y. J., McCarty, C. A., Stoep, A. V., and Myers, K. M. (2015). Teletherapy Delivery of Caregiver Behavior Training for Children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458734/
- Wagner, B., Horn, A. B., and Maercker, A. (2013). Internet-based versus face-to-face cognitive-behavioral intervention for depression: A randomized controlled non-inferiority trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.06.032