Is Telehealth The Future Of Psychotherapy?

By Monica Vandyke

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be slowly fading into the background, safety precautions and physical distancing remain priorities for many. And throughout the pandemic, these priorities have helped to fuel the remarkable rise of telehealth –– with one report at PR Newswire citing a single Medicare provider that saw an increase of as much as 2000% in telehealth consultations alone. That’s a remarkable number, but it indicates just how thoroughly remote healthcare has been embraced, which in turn speaks to why it’s likely to stick around.

Make no mistake, this is likely to be the case where psychiatric and mental health matters are concerned as well. Just last spring, Medpage Today referred to psychotherapy as the “most common telehealth procedure, which means quite clearly that when the pandemic is finally behind us, and telehealth is still being practiced, psychotherapy patients will be among those benefiting.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly that means.

What Telehealth in Psychotherapy Looks Like

With regard to psychotherapy, telehealth is a way for people to have medical consultations with therapists, seeking advice and feedback via phone or video chat. Initially, it may seem strange to have a therapy session on a mobile device or computer if you are used to having face-to-face meetings. But many people who have tried telehealth find the experience to be very safe (particularly in light of the pandemic) and satisfyingly convenient. So long as a patient has an internet connection and a proper electronic device, they can see their therapist virtually from anywhere at an agreed-upon time.

While there are many advantages to telehealth, however there are also some challenges. For example, it is true that some mental health patients in particular might miss the empathy and compassion that are more easily conveyed through face-to-face, in-person interaction. However, with regard to issues like this it is important to note that the future of telehealth –– which we’ll speak to further below –– is very unlikely to remove the option of in-person consultation for most patients.

Why Telehealth is Likely to Stick Around

Whether or not telehealth is likely to stick around in general has become a common question of late. The online health resource SymptomFind took this question on in detail in a recent post, and concluded quite simply that most care that doesn’t require detailed exams or diagnostic testing is “optimal” for telemedicine. Virtual appointments, in other words, are not just practical and convenient because of the pandemic, but are actually ideal for the average check-in.

It is also the case, as has been indicated in numerous surveys, that the majority of people who have tried telehealth find it to be a very effective way of engaging with therapists. The fact is, as much as many patients value in-person care, most place a premium on convenience. If a given appointment doesn’t require any kind of physical examination or assessment, a patient is generally unlikely to prefer going out of their way for an in-person appointment if virtual care is an option. And given that so much of psychotherapy does come down to conversation and verbal assessment –– rather than physical examination –– these factors may be even more relevant in this specific area of care.

What the Future Looks Like

As we look to the future, the current trend tells us that telehealth must be available as an option for all future clients. Psychotherapists will continue to adapt to the trend as needed. However, that does not mean a slow and steady push ever forward toward complete telehealth. Rather, as with other areas of healthcare, it will mean a push toward hybrid care.

This is construct we’re hearing more and more about, which essentially describes what we’ve already come to see during the pandemic. Patients will have the primary option of scheduling telehealth appointments –– perhaps on a regular, recurring schedule in some psychotherapy situations. However, care plans will also provide for the scheduling of in-person appointments –– say, if a certain assessment or test is needed, or if either the therapist or the patient deems an in-person meeting to be necessary.

All things considered, telehealth has proven to be a valuable tool for psychotherapists and patients alike. This method of care connects patients with their therapists for their continued care –– a service that would otherwise not have been possible in the darkest days of the pandemic. Moving forward, it will make care plans more flexible and convenient, and may even help more patients to seek care when they would not otherwise do so.

Thank you for reading, and for more content on psychotherapy services, training, and a range of related topics, please visit us here at Tim Dreby again!