What Is Telehealth Therapy, How Effective Is It, and Is It Right for You?

What Is Telehealth?

Telehealth refers to the practice of seeing any doctor or health care professional using phone or videoconferencing. While many people are just finding out about telehealth due to current social distancing, telehealth has actually been around for decades. In therapy, telehealth sessions are usually conducted with a person’s computer or smartphone and use a variety of apps or programs such as Zoom or Skype.

It Seems Weird – How Can You Do Therapy Online?

Therapy involves a personal relationship between client and therapist, so it may seem odd to think about seeing your therapist on a computer or phone. Indeed, some things are different and certain elements of face-to-face interaction are lost.  However, most people adjust to it without any problems and find that they have the same connection to their therapist as they did with office visits. Telehealth sessions are basically the same as in-person sessions, so whatever you might be used to doing with your therapist will likely not change that much.

Is It Effective and Safe?

The research is clear that therapy conducted via telehealth sessions is just as effective as regular therapy.  So you can be reassured that telehealth is not just a response to the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, but is actually a well thought-out and developed practice that shows good results. In addition, you  may have concerns about confidentiality or the level of security in an online session. HIPAA regulations require therapists to make sure their telehealth systems are secure and most therapists have put a lot of thought into how to keep conversations secure and confidential. At Portland Psychotherapy, we have done all kinds of research on how to make telehealth secure and have loads of procedures and safeguards to keep it that way!

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages?

The main advantage of telehealth is that you do not have to leave your home or travel to see your therapist.  Some clients report feeling that they are able to be more open with their provider, as they feel safe and comfortable at home.  There are also certain therapeutic exercises, such as exposure therapy for anxiety, that may actually be more effective when clients are able to practice skills in their natural environments. 

On the downside, it may be difficult to find a quiet, secure place in your home to have therapy. If this is the case, your therapist can work with you to help you problem-solve and find a good solution that works with your home situation. Other potential obstacles include technological issues on your phone or computer.  These problems typically only occur as someone is first learning how to use telehealth programs and can be solved with some basic troubleshooting. In addition, the technology of telehealth programs has improved greatly so they are extremely easy to use and user-friendly even for those of us who might see themselves as technically challenged!

What If I’m Still Not Sure?

If you’re still not sure whether telehealth might work for you, have an honest conversation with your therapist about it.  Identify and express whatever concerns you may have about it, and see what your therapist says.  Ask if your therapist would be willing to try a brief 10-minute Zoom or Skype call to see how it feels.  You can also check out other resources to investigate it further such as news reports or articles.

Give Yourself Time to Adjust

It may take some time to adjust to the new format, especially if you have been seeing a therapist in-person for awhile. Setting realistic expectations and being open to new experiences will be helpful in making the transition to telehealth if you choose to give it a try. Your therapist can also give you guidelines about how to make the most of a telehealth session.

As a therapist, I will admit that I was very skeptical of engaging in telehealth sessions with my clients.  However, once I learned about its effectiveness and experienced that good therapy could be conducted in this format, I quickly realized that telehealth is a great option for many situations where face-to-face sessions is impractical or impossible.  I would encourage anyone who is on the fence to give it a try and see for yourself.

Author: Brian Pilecki, Ph.D.

Dr. Brian Pilecki is a licensed clinical psychologist who earned his Ph.D. from Fordham University and completed his postdoctoral training at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. He specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders, trauma and PTSD, and matters related to the use of psychedelics. Additionally, Dr. Pilecki has experience in mindfulness and meditation and practices primarily from an orientation based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). He is also engaged in scientific research on psychedelics.

What Makes Us Unique

Portland Psychotherapy is a clinic, research & training center with a unique business model that funds scientific research. This results in a team of therapists who are exceptionally well-trained and knowledgeable about their areas of specialty.