With the pandemic, came a wave of therapists that began offering telehealth mental health services (online therapy). Many therapists have had to make difficult decisions regarding whether or not to have face-to-face sessions and how those can be done safely. I cannot imagine having to wear masks in therapy sessions so I have decided to only provide telehealth (virtual sessions) at this time.
If you are struggling with your mental health, keep in mind that you are not alone during these stressful and difficult times. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during late June 2020, about 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use associated with Covid-19. Of those adults, 31% reported struggling with anxiety/depression, 26% struggled with trauma symptoms, 13% started or increased substance use, and 11% considered suicide.
I understand some clients may be nervous and anxious about participating in this format of therapy, so I am writing this post to answer some frequently asked questions and provide tips for preparing for telehealth appointments.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. How can I ensure privacy for myself?
I get it. You have spouses/partners/roommates that you don’t want to hear your conversations that occur in therapy. Before your first therapy session, think about a location in your home where you will be afforded complete privacy. If you are unable to find a location with complete privacy, feel free to go out to your car and participate in the appointment from your phone. Many of the people I work with do just that.
2. What measures do therapists take to ensure confidentiality?
Confidentiality is my highest ethical priority. That said, I will be practicing from my home office away from where other family members can hear. I place a sign on the door and the door remains closed for privacy so that family members and friendly pets do not interrupt sessions. In addition to these measures, I always wear headphones as an extra layer of privacy.
3. What kind of technology do you use for telehealth appointments and how does this all work?
I currently have a subscription with Simple Practice and am using their video conferencing platform for telehealth appointments. Overall, I have had minimal technical difficulties and am pretty satisfied with the platform. Although I could purchase a cheaper program, I have not done so simply because my clients and I have been content with its ease of use. Before an appointment, my clients receive a link from me that is unique for them. At the time of the appointment, they pull up the link from email and click on it. Telehealth appointments can accessed from a computer or by phone through downloading the “Simple Practice Telehealth” app. The location of where clients access appointments varies. Some clients access their telehealth appointments from a bedroom in their homes and others drive to a parking lot and access their telehealth appointment by phone.
4. What are the benefits of telehealth appointments?
Convenience! Instead of driving to your therapy appointment in a terrible storm, you can access your appointment from your cozy home. Essentially, you can select any location of your choosing as long as it is in the state in where your therapist is licensed to practice in. You will also save time as well when you factor in the amount of time it would take to get to and from your appointment. The quality of care will still remain the same as if you were to attend the appointment in person. Confidentiality will still be upheld, and the licensed professional has to abide by the laws governing his/her practice. By participating in telehealth appointments, you are not putting yourself or loved ones at risk for catching Covid-19.
5. What are the challenges of telehealth?
Well, sometimes technology is not friendly. The call can get dropped. The video can have glitches. Your computer can decide it wants to update in the middle of the session. I could go on and on about the possible technical glitches that can happen. I have been providing telehealth since March and technical issues have only happened once or twice while I have been in session. When it has happened, I have been very prompt in resolving the issue and resuming therapy within five to ten minutes. Another risk to telehealth is someone getting unauthorized access to your appointment. However, this would only happen if you gave your unique appointment link to someone. Be sure not to give anyone the link to your appointment.
6. I have my first telehealth appointment coming up. How do I prepare for it?
In order to prevent technical glitches, I recommend checking to see if your computer needs updates and looking through your settings before the appointment. Also, complete a trial run and ensure your camera and microphone are functioning properly. Download the app and consider any other technology you will need for the appointment. Make sure that you have your phone nearby when the telehealth appointment starts, so if you lose connection the therapist will be able to reach you. Also, consider the location of where you want to access your telehealth appointment from. Remind your family members that you need uninterrupted time for your telehealth appointment and for them to only interrupt you in the case of an emergency.
7. Can I still participate in telehealth appointments while I am on vacation?
The answer to this depends on where you are going for your vacation. Therapists are only allowed to practice in the states where they are licensed.
Additional tips for preparing for your next telehealth appointment:
Get comfortable. Therapy is a judgment-free zone. Therefore, feel free to wear your PJ’s. No need to worry about your location being absolutely free of clutter or mess. Keep tissues nearby and make sure you have snacks and beverages handy.
Write down a list of concerns. Sometimes our minds can get scattered or we get stressed and we completely forget what we wanted to talk about in therapy. Through writing down your concerns, you will have a visual reminder and something to reference during session. If you have several concerns you need to talk about, prioritize the topics you want to discuss. Since there are only 45-50 minutes in a session, you may not get to all the concerns you wanted to discuss.
Be honest. It is normal to be nervous before your first telehealth appointment. It is also okay to tell your therapist that you are nervous. Telehealth is a new environment and a new way of doing things. Online therapy may seem awkward at first and it may take time to feel comfortable. While the environment may be different, therapy will be provided in the same manner. Confidentiality will be upheld, and the therapists have to continue to abide by the laws governing their practice.
I believe telehealth appointments are here to stay. This format of therapy makes mental health services more accessible for everyone. People who may not otherwise be able to receive treatment, such as those who are homebound or live in rural areas, are now afforded more opportunities to access mental health treatment. Telehealth also helps to reduce the stigma associated with going to therapy. While some clients may be concerned about being seen outside a therapist’s office, this no longer has to be a concern given that therapy appointments can be accessed from the privacy of their own home. Essentially, telehealth appointments can be accessed from anywhere and can take place anytime. Some clients may prefer talking about uncomfortable topics from the comfort of their own homes.
Do you have anxiety and/or depression and need help managing it during these difficult times? Are you on the fence about participating in virtual sessions and have questions and/or concerns about it? I am here to help! Feel free to reach out to me by clicking here to send me a message or at (813)501-2703 to schedule a telehealth appointment. I currently have lunch and evening appointments available!
Shannon Schell, LMHC