Those in the telehealth trenches say it improves access to care for people who live in remote areas or who, due to illness or mobility problems, can’t leave home. The practice also enhances psychological services by allowing psychologists to support clients between visits.
Teletherapy sessions work much like the in-person variety. “You make an appointment in advance with a therapist, but instead of traveling to an office, you hop on your computer and receive a HIPAA-secure link to your email to gain access to the video chat,” (HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal law requiring health care providers and organizations to ensure patients’ health information is kept private.)
A client can be anywhere to receive teletherapy — at home, at the office during lunch, and regardless of the weather or the lack of transportation options. It can be very helpful to people who live in rural areas, far from mental health professionals.
“It also allows the client to be in a place where they are most comfortable to discuss delicate topics,” Genovese says.
Teletherapy vs. In-Person Therapy
On the positive side for telehealth, clients have reported, “There is definitely more flexibility, which made me more accountable for keeping my appointments … for my in-person therapist, I often cancel because I won’t make it on time if I’m stuck late at work this gives me an option.”
“It allows the client to be in a place where they are most comfortable to discuss delicate topics.”
Of course, teletherapy is not for everybody. After trying it for a while, Vieira went back to in-person sessions. She says she enjoys the feeling of leaving behind the energy from her session at her therapist’s office and that she feels “lighter” for it. Some therapists combine both “in-office and telehealth.”
Another negative of teletherapy for some people could be the inability to control the environment. A psychotherapist’s office is typically quite controlled in terms of noise and interruptions. But when you join a video call from your home, the doorbell might ring, the dog might start barking or someone might be able to hear you in the next room.
Is Teletherapy Effective?
Therapy via telehealth has been shown to be equally as effective as in-person therapy, especially when it comes to general anxiety, depression, life transitions and family dynamics.
When comparing virtual visits with office visits, roughly 63% of patients and 59% of clinicians reported no difference in the overall quality of the visit, according to a study published in January 2019 in the American Journal of Managed Care. Cognitive behavioral therapy delivered via telehealth for depression and anxiety disorders is equally effective as in-person, according to a 2018 study by researchers at the University of South Wales in Sydney. One survey by Teledoc Health, a leader in virtual health care delivery, found a 32% decrease in depressive symptoms, a 31% reduction in anxiety, and a 20% drop in stress as a result of patients using teletherapy.
But for those in need of significant support around trauma, eating disorders and addiction, in-person appointments may still be your best bet, therapists say.
Will Insurance Pay for Telehealth Appointments?
Many private insurance companies cover telehealth and it’s best to check with them to find out about coverage for teletherapy. Medicare covers some telehealth mental health services, but primarily for people in rural areas where there is poor access to mental health professionals. And in those cases, to use teletherapy, the patient must be located at a Medicare “originating site,” meaning a local health care facility or nursing home.
There is legislation making its way through Congress to expand Medicare telehealth access for Medicare beneficiaries seeking mental health services at home.
Just like in-person therapy, costs for teletherapy vary widely, depending on the practitioner or health care organization. Most therapists using telehealth charge anywhere from about $100 to $250 per session, according to a 2011 survey by PsychCentral, an online publisher of mental health information and resources.