The Benefits and Limitations of
Summer Mayne, B.A.
As the world has moved completely digital over the past year, it is to be expected that mental health services would adapt with patient needs. That being said, many patients are finding that they are unsure of the effectiveness or comfortability with transitioning to virtual therapy. Can we really get better behind a computer screen or over the phone?
Whether you are new to therapy or continuing your treatment, here are some benefits, as well as limitations, to choosing virtual options for your mental health care:
Comfort of your own space
Comfortability is one of the main reasons many patients prefer virtual therapy. Patients who experience anxiety, depression, effects of trauma or other ailments find that being in the safety and comfort of their own familiar space allows them the benefit of vulnerability and deeper connection to self during sessions. They can open up further with their therapist and begin working on internal issues that may have taken longer to dive into during in-person sessions. Ashley Fecteau, LCSW for Good Therapy San Diego, says that concepts such as “glimmers,” or things (objects, colors, pets, etc.) that “signal safety, comfort, and groundedness,” are more easily accessible to clients who are engaging in treatments at home or in their designated safe space. The ability to be comfortable in a therapeutic session is a necessity to ensuring you receive quality, supportive and effective care.
Balancing your schedule
In video therapy, you have the option to pick a time that works for you. Whether you are working from home, working from the office, caring for family members or you just have an ever-changing schedule – video therapy remains to be the most convenient option for fitting mental health care into your calendar. Caroline Maehler, LMFT for Good Therapy San Diego, has moved completely virtual and finds that her clients are better at keeping consistent appointments than when she was conducting sessions in-person. Virtual sessions are more likely to start and end on time and, if you are part of a couple or family, you don’t all have to be in the same physical space. This is especially helpful for busy parents in couples’ therapy, or families with various activities going on throughout the week. Also, parents who cannot find child care are able to engage in sessions regularly due to not needing to leave their home. Many patients are additionally able to schedule virtual sessions on their lunch break to help them destress during their hectic work day. Lastly, your virtual therapist has more time in their day as well! This means they have more availability to see you when it fits in your schedule.
No Travel or Risk of Exposure
In addition to balancing your calendar, you no longer have to account for extra time around your therapy appointments for travel. This means less time commitment and no risk of car accidents or tire blow outs ruining the rest of your day. Individuals with lack of access to convenient transportation, for example teenagers who can’t yet drive or those who rely on public transportation, don’t have the additional hassle of finding means for getting to and from appointments. Furthermore, clients with agoraphobia and fear of illness, or physical impairments that prevent them from leaving their home, have access to mental health care and are, in some cases, more inclined to reach out for help.
Another benefit to engaging in virtual therapy is your ability to keep your sessions private. You run no risk of bumping into friends, coworkers or neighbors during your travel to the session (or in the waiting room…) because you are conducting your sessions in your own private space. Chelsea Salas, LMFT for Good Therapy San Diego, highlights that clients who are celebrities, influential figures, hold public office or are otherwise well known in their community, benefit greatly from the anonymity and privacy that virtual therapy provides.
While there are a number of benefits to trying virtual therapy, it is important to highlight the potential limitations to it as well.
- Appropriateness: Some clients with specific needs require high level of care that is not effective through virtual modalities. Therapists are required, by law and ethical code, to assess for appropriateness for telehealth services during each virtual session with a client. If the therapist determines telehealth is not appropriate, the therapist will provide options including referrals that can ensure continuum of care for the client in need.
- Safety: Client safety can be a concern, as the therapist is not able to prevent any physical harm to the patient through virtual options. Therapists prepare for this by gathering the location of the patient at the time of session, and ensuring they have the proper emergency contacts on hand for local agencies who can assist in times of crisis.
- Special modalities: The screen can sometimes act as a barrier in certain types of therapy, like EMDR. Katie Brooks, LCSW, Good Therapy San Diego Co-Founder and Clinical Director, says that avoidant clients can find it difficult to tap into the emotions they need to reprocess for effective change. She also says that it "takes more energy on the clinician’s part to track their client’s energy and gain rapport if the client is dis-regulated or in a chaotic movement." However, therapists can ask the client to find a quiet, stationary and private space which usually mitigates those issues.
- Cyber-Security: As with all online activity, there are cybersecurity risks associated with telehealth. This is why GTSD uses a HIPAA-compliant video therapy platform (Google Meet) and a HIPAA-compliant Electronic Health Record System (Simple Practice) that helps to minimize any security or confidentiality breaches to patient information.
- Technology Issues: Some clients have poor internet connection or the internet simply stops working, which can put a damper on using virtual therapy as means of mental health care. Additionally, it is generally recommended to use a computer with a video camera for sessions, which some clients may not possess or there may be a shared device that is in use at the time of session. Moving to a private space within the home, resetting your router and communicating needs to family tends to solve these issues but it’s not a guaranteed fix. Our Patient Care Coordinators can also run a test with you, prior to your session, to make sure your internet is strong enough and the video therapy link is working properly.
Don’t knock it till you try it
If you are still on the fence about video therapy, it is worth giving it a try. Good Therapy San Diego has found that many of our clients who switched to virtual due to the pandemic are opting to stay virtual after restrictions lift due to comfort, accessibility, scheduling, less disruption of the work day and overall ease of use rather than in-person sessions. Of course, therapy is a unique and individualized experience for everyone. Meaning that you should always engage in the type of therapy that makes you the most comfortable and motivated in the process of getting to where you’d like to be. Please visit goodtherapysandiego.com or contact us at (619) 330-9500 to get started with a therapist today!