Telehealth is any kind of healthcare work (like therapy!) performed over the internet. Usually this is done through video software on your phone or computer, though sometimes, providers are coming to outlying or rural areas through video connection straight with another provider's office. Telehealth is a new, big thing in healthcare that you should probably know about, for a few reasons.
1. It's convenient
The biggest factor in making actual progress on your goals is how well you and your therapist work together, but you often have to narrow down a list of providers before you even start making phone calls. People tend to pick the providers for these shortlists, like their therapists and their doctors, based on proximity to other important places, like the your home or work, or a child's school. Basically, before we've even started, we already want treatment to be convenient. Usually, if you're seeking therapy, you're already running a little low on energy anyway. What could be more convenient that not having to take distance into account when shopping for a provider? What if you could just focus on finding the provider that would work best with you and your concerns, instead of having to take extra logistics into account?
This has been the biggest factor behind the clients who come to see me for teletherapy, and is especially important in rural areas where there may only be a handful of practitioners to see. I've also found this to be a handy back-up for people who can't make it to a regular session for some reason, like when my town had a "snowpocalypse" that buried everyone for a few weeks. No one had to miss out on their therapy because they couldn't get out of their driveway.
2. It's affordable
An internet connection is almost essential to participate in modern life at this point. Even without taking therapy into account, most people have an internet connection - yes, even people in those rural communities I'm talking about. If you're reading this, you have an internet connection, too. Aside from an internet connection and a device to use (like a tablet or a phone), there's no other technology you need. Even if you're using a PC to access your care, chances are, you can likely have therapy just fine by adding a $20 webcam. And more so than the lack of extra cost on your end? It's also way less expensive for a therapist to offer a practice from a remote location, especially if that location is home. That savings can get passed along to you, the friendly consumer.
The overhead costs of an office (and secondary services along with that, like office furniture, cleaning, and maintenance, to name a few) are significantly lessened when a practitioner can give up some or all of their out-of-home office time. Plus, I found that working out of a home office gives me an unprecedented level of control over my environment that I couldn't achieve in my outpatient offices. Being able to fully soundproof a room to my satisfaction is something I would have a hard time giving up, if I had to go back to a standard office for all meetings.
3. It's accessible
As a practitioner who specializes in disability and trauma , I know the importance of having care that is not only available to you, but is available to you in a way that's comfortable to access. Now, not everyone is comfortable talking to a practitioner through video chat - many people aren't, in fact, and that's okay.
We've already talked about the convenience factor in accessibility, but there are more angles to consider. For example, someone with a significant trauma history may have a hard time relaxing in spaces outside their homes, or may be highly sensitive to environmental triggers. These triggers can be difficult to handle in an unfamiliar space like a therapy office, and being able to have the option to have therapy in a space you know you are safe, such as home might be, can be a way to maintain some of that comfort.
For people with limited mobility or eyesight, navigating an unfamiliar environment can lead to not only unnecessary stress, but also unforeseen barriers. I've had so many therapist colleagues choose offices on the second floors of buildings with no elevators, and come to me to help them figure out why they aren't getting the chronic pain clients they're seeking. Navigating stairs, for example, can be a huge hassle, and not all clinicians are familiar enough with disability to consider describing their office on their website. Additionally, some locations (like those same rural towns we talked about earlier) may not have any accessible office space available. I knew of a therapy office whose practitioners would have to play "musical chairs" with the few accessible offices, and the front desk had to keep track of which clients couldn't navigate stairs so they could make sure to schedule them separately. Not only is that hassle unfair to the clients coming in, who now may be denied appointment slots explicitly because of their disability, but it's also completely unnecessary, if you are able to offer accommodations like a telehealth office can.
4. It's practical
Most people under the age of 40 have essentially grown up in a world with technology as the norm, and often, a world where internet access was the norm. The strong success of online-focused businesses like Amazon is highly driven by a society that more and more values the use of technology to overcome what are more often than not now seen as unnecessary barriers. If your groceries can come to you, your errands can be done with a mouse click, and more and more, your work can be done from anywhere with an internet connection, why wouldn't you want to use the same convenient technology to meet your other needs? Especially when those needs revolve around stressors. Why shouldn't we work to eliminate any barriers that can be eliminated between a you and the help you want?
As our population continues to incorporate technology into every other aspect of our lives, it feels inevitable that this health sphere, too, should catch up to the times.
5. It reaches new people
For this one, you don't just have to take my word.
According to the keynote speech at the 2017 ACA Conference in San Francisco, presented by Dr. Irvin Yalom, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University and mandatory reading for every therapist of the last century, Dr. Yalom participated in research around telehalth expecting to find that the distance and lack of physical proximity reduced the effectiveness of therapy. Dr. Yalom stated that the research showed teletherapy to be approximately as effective, but what he says was more surprising was that the people who tended to be drawn to teletherapy were people who said they weren't likely to ever seek out face-to-face therapy.
It turns out that everyone has their own needs, and we tend to gravitate towards things that meet our needs best. That's why I will always advocate for therapists to offer face-to-face sessions for anyone who wants them, in a calm and neutral office environment catered especially to the job. (This is not something I offer currently due to relocation for a PhD program.) But, for people who prefer telehealth, or even want to experiment with it or just not lose out on a scheduled session, I would encourage everyone to try it.