Teletherapy, counseling with a licensed professional by way of the phone, e-mail or videoconferencing, is not new, but it is new to many right now. Today more than ever, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers are shifting gears to provide remote therapy to new and existing clients. And with that, comes hurdles, but also surprising benefits. Here, how to make teletherapy work for you.

#1: Find The Right Therapist

Whether you’re going through a therapy platform service like TalkSpace or BetterHealth or an individual therapist, it’s imperative to choose a licensed and trained mental health professional. That means individuals who are accredited, such as psychologists (PhD or PsyD), marriage and family therapists (LMFT), clinical social workers (LCSW or LMSW) or board licensed professional counselors (LPC or LMHC).

#2: Express Any Privacy Concerns You Have

“Prior to COVID-19, the same steps that your doctor’s office took to protect your personal and health information was also utilized when providing telehealth therapy,” says Alicia Murray, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor in DeWitt, New York. However, with the massive and quick change to telehealth for many providers, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines have been loosened—for now. “This means that, for example, therapists can now conduct sessions via FaceTime, which is not recognized as being HIPAA-compliant,” says Murray. (Services that are HIPAA-compliant adhere to a specific standard to ensure the protection of sensitive patient data.) If you have any concerns about privacy and security, speak up. “You can alway ask that your provider use a platform that’s HIPAA-compliant,” says Murray.

#3: Allow The Experience To Be Different

“It’s not going to be the same as in-person therapy, and that’s ok. It’s still effective, especially if you allow it to be different,” says April Bennett, Ed.S., LPC, a psychotherapist in Charlottesville, Virginia. Part of the allowing? Simply acknowledging—and talking to your care provider about—the fact that this type of therapy feels different. It can also help to begin each session with some sort of formal demarcation. Bennett, for example, started lighting a candle at the beginning of each of her telehealth sessions. “This can make the start of the session feel intentional, helping to formalize the time together as having a beginning and an end, which can be missing in normal video conferencing,” says Bennett.

#4: Surround Yourself With What You Need

“Therapy can be hard, uncomfortable, and frankly not everyone’s favorite time of the week or month,” says Murray. “But the wonderful thing about telehealth is that you are having a session in the comfort of your own home, the place where most of us feel most safe.” Murray suggests upping your ease by pouring yourself a favorite tea or coffee before settling in. And think about incorporating any helpful resources you use during your in-office sessions at home, such as having a fidget handy if you become stressed and situating tissues nearby.

#5: Embrace The Ease

“Teletherapy allows you to see your therapist without the commute time, which can be a huge plus for many,” says Melanie Chinchilla, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in San Francisco. “Clients with busy schedules, parents who are staying at home, and those with limited ability or access to appointments really enjoy the flexibility.” In addition, you have access to professionals throughout your state, dramatically expanding your network of potential therapists. “This is particularly important for those living in rural areas or places where there aren’t many licensed therapists,” says Chinchilla.

#6: Make Room For Hiccups

A glitchy internet connection, frozen screens, bandwidth issues: Whether you’re in the middle of a Netflix marathon or therapy session, technology malfunctions happen. While it’s near impossible to prevent 100 percent of these interruptions, it is possible to expect that they could happen and have a backup plan for when they do. “I recommend you have your cell phone nearby and that your therapist knows the phone number so he or she can readily reach you if necessary,” says Chinchilla.

It’s also a good idea to give yourself about 15 minutes to get settled and signed into your teletherapy session before your scheduled appointment. “This allows room for potential delays,” says Chinchilla. Also smart: If you’re operating off your internet, help ensure a good connection by unplugging internet-connected electronics, like your Alexa, Ring, Nest, or Roku. “And close out of things on your laptop, phone or computer that may be running in the background, like cloud backups and security scans,” says Murray.

#7: Create A Therapy Space

In-person therapy sessions are in quiet and confidential spaces away from friends, family, roommates—and pets. “It’s key to make sure you have that same sort of space with teletherapy so that you can freely talk about the issues that matter without distraction,” says Chinchilla. If you share your household with others, let them know you will be in an important meeting during your session to reduce the chances of interruption. “And no one should be in the next room where they can hear you or your therapist speaking,” says Chinchilla.

If that’s impossible, try putting a sound machine outside your door and/or using high-quality headphones during your sessions. And if you’re struggling to find a private spot, get creative: The car, the bathroom and on a walk may all work. And, perhaps most importantly, don’t interrupt yourself. Silence your phone, close all other computer windows and turn off your email and chat features on your computer.

#8: Aim For Video, If Possible

There are numerous vehicles to deliver teletherapy, like email, text and phone. While the one you’re most comfortable with is the one for you, Chinchilla prefers video. “I think simultaneous, real-time video and voice teletherapy is the best option because it allows you and your therapist to use non-verbal communication, like facial expressions and hand gestures to express yourselves,” she says. If video isn’t available, a phone is the next best option. “This permits you to communicate information through your tone, cadence and rate of speech, too,” says Chinchilla.

#9: Know The Benefits

Even if teletherapy wasn’t your first choice of therapy options, know that it can work. For instance, it’s been shown that tele-based cognitive behavioral therapy was equally as effective as in-person CBT for treating anxiety disorders, according to a 2015 Cochrane Systematic Review. A 2016 randomized clinical study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that home-based video-teletherapy for depression worked just as well as in-person visits. And another study—this one in a 2018 issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine—found that telephone-administered interpersonal psychotherapy can also reduce depression over the long term.

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Last Updated: Aug 18, 2020