When therapy goes high tech

Many people who need and want psychotherapy never obtain it. This may be due to a variety of reasons, including the embarrassment of seeking help or the inconvenience of visiting an office on a regular basis.

An alternative approach is now available. Telepsychology, or therapy via a video chat, phone or instant messaging is a reputable and effective way to obtain professional help.

A recent article in Monitor On Psychology reported that telepsychology has been around for about 20 years, but has become recently more popular due to the widespread availability of technology. A large number of online psychology services are available, allowing patients to set up regular appointments using a technology that is most comfortable for them. In some instances, insurance is covering such therapy. Telepsychiatry services are also available, helpful in the medication management of mental disorders.

This approach has lots of advantages, from a patient perspective. Therapy sessions can be scheduled at convenient times, such as evenings or weekends. While some may feel this approach is impersonal, that may be an advantage. Some patients are reluctant to seek professional help because they are unable to be forthright and communicate directly about intense fears and feelings. Telepsychology offers a technological barrier that may be perceived as protecting patients from such concerns. For some people, it’s easier to express oneself in a web chat or by a video conference than in person.

The emotional detachment provided by technology is one of the reasons why kids love social media. They tell me that chat rooms and text messaging gives them the perceived security and safety to say what they think and feel with some degree of protection. If it works for our kids, might it work for you?

In many instances, telepsychology is a precursor to in-person sessions. Some people start off with a teletherapist and realize that face-to-face interactions may be more appropriate.

No single approach works for every situation. How does a therapist manage a situation when a patient reveals concerns about self-harm or child abuse? Will this approach work with young children or kids with special disabilities?

You need to be as careful in selecting an online therapist as you are in selecting any health care professional. Ask about education, areas of specialization and licensure. Query whether the clinician has ever had any malpractice claims. Do an Internet search to read any publications authored by your potential therapist and feedback from patients.

I am not recommending any of the following, but the Monitor on Psychology article lists the following online services as the most popular: American Well, BetterHelp, Breakthrough, Lantern, 7 Cups of Tea and TalkSpace.

Next Week: Adolescent depression

About the Author