Telecommunications technology has transformed modern life, and is now transforming how therapists and clinical psychologists are providing mental health services.
Telehealth—delivering mental health care remotely, and sometimes over great distances—is making it possible to bring life-changing services to populations who previously may have lacked access to them, even beyond the pandemic. Clinical mental health counselors are interacting with clients through a wide range of technological tools including apps, videoconferencing, text messaging, e-mail, etc.
Prior to COVID-19, Telehealth was slowly but steadily growing in the United States. It was after the declaration of a national health emergency, however, that many government agencies loosened restrictions on Telehealth services and encouraged health care providers to offer them to their patients in need.
Between 2005 and 2017, the majority of Telehealth visits made by privately insured patients were for mental health. Telehealth continued to grow in popularity, with the adoption of Telehealth in health facilities nearly doubling from 15% in 2010 to 29% in 2017. At the onset of COVID-19, Telehealth visits surged by 50% in March 2020, with providers seeing huge spikes in video requests from patients.
With remote services in high demand, legislators sought ways to remove barriers to Telehealth. Legislation passed in March 2020 allowed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to revise regulations that previously limited Telehealth services to certain locations with the use of synchronous video technology. Under the new rules, patients can receive services at home using their phones. The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights declared it will waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers providing Telehealth services in good faith. The Drug Enforcement Agency and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also made changes to policies, making it easier for physicians to prescribe medication.
Telehealth puts mental health services within reach of men, women, and children who live in rural or remote areas where counselors may be scarce. Some states, like Alaska, have lifted geographic limitations, allowing mental health providers from other states to practice Telehealth within its borders. Telehealth therapy practitioners also can provide services in correctional settings when the patient and clinician cannot be together.
With clinical mental health counselors now serving clients over long distances through videoconferencing, travel time can involve just the seconds it takes to walk to one’s laptop. This innovative counseling model eliminates a client’s need for transportation, and any travel-related costs. Telehealth also can make it easier for patients to work appointments into their schedules without having to take time off from work. Clinicians may find opportunities to increase their patient loads if practicing Telehealth eliminates or cuts back on the need to commute to an office.
Patients can wait an average of 25 days to see a mental health professional after making an appointment. Telehealth removes many of the barriers that lead to long waits to see providers. A patient no longer has to choose a counselor from a short list of practitioners within a comfortable driving distance or place their name on a waiting list, they can instead choose to work remotely with a professional who accepts patients through Telehealth.
In 1999, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher identified the stigma around mental illness as the most persistent barrier to individuals seeking help and noted that this stigma is more pronounced in rural settings. For patients concerned about appearing publicly at a practitioner’s office, working with clinical mental health counselors from home via teleconferencing, or by phone, can ease anxieties and promote acceptance of treatment. Professionals, advocacy groups, and others continue their work to dispel this misplaced sense of embarrassment or shame about seeking mental health services.
Research continues to affirm the efficacy of Telehealth services, with studies showing that videoconferencing is as effective as face-to-face treatments.Offering increased provider options and a multitude of convenient technological vehicles, Telehealth therapy is a growing and effective alternative for those delivering and receiving mental health services.
The best way to find out if Telehealth Therapy is right for you is to ask your provider, current therapist, or another trusted mental health professional to refer you to a colleague who offers it.
Although it may be difficult and time-consuming to find the right therapist for you, it’s important to keep trying. The sooner you can start therapy — and stay committed to it — the sooner you’ll have an improved quality of life.
At Healing Minds, we have therapists that can help you deal with difficult times and mental health issues. Working with a therapist can make the difference you need to step towards a full, whole life once again.