Like most everything else in our day-to-day lives, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic relegated therapy sessions to the virtual realm. As we continue to adapt to new variants and evolving safety protocols nationwide, it’s clear that virtual therapy will remain a common, and even preferred, practice for patients and providers.
When it comes to virtual therapy, more commonly referred to as teletherapy, patients have options. These may include self-guided programs, text-based support, or live virtual therapy via a video platform, such as Zoom. When determining which platform is best for them, it’s important for patients to understand some of the key differences between live video sessions and other options, such as text-based support.
Sarah-Valin Bloom, LCSW, Head of Clinical Development at Eden Health, highlights some of the benefits of virtual, video-based therapy and talks about some of the factors that differentiate it from other options:
Expanded access: Patients living in rural areas or places where services are not readily available are able to access a provider that may be hours away with little challenge. This is also a game-changer for patients who have physical challenges that may make traveling to visit a therapist’s office much more difficult. For patients with limited access to transportation, they are able to “see” a provider without the need for travel.
This expanded access also applies to insurance coverage — mental health providers are five times more likely to be out of network with insurance. For patients who need or want to use their insurance, virtual therapy can expand their access to in-network providers.
Finding the right provider: Oftentimes, patients are limited to the providers within a certain geography due to travel constraints. Even in areas where services are available, the providers who may be able to see the patient are not necessarily an expert in the patient’s area of clinical need or may not meet specific preferences that can make or break a patient’s decision to enter therapy in the first place. Some of these may include gender, race, ethnicity, language, and age, just to name a few.
Rapport building: Services delivered via video platform allow for relationship building between therapist and patient, which is documented to be one of the most powerful indicators of success in treatment. This can be much more challenging over text-based therapy options or programs where there is little-to-no contact with a therapist at all.
Attunement: A big part of communication is non-verbal or can be felt in the tone of voice someone uses. For example, someone saying “I’m great” who is smiling and looks healthy and bright and speaks with a sense of lightness in their voice is very different from someone who says the same thing but looks down, unkempt, and is speaking with a tone of sadness or resignation. This is a very obvious example but things like this are easily lost in communication that is based solely on text.
Intentional pausing: In the midst of very busy lives, setting aside time for therapy helps a patient prioritize themselves, their own self-care, and take time out to get what they need. This is a marked contrast to text-based treatment that encourages sustaining the same pace and just “squeezing in” contact with a therapist throughout the week.
Ability to address a wider range of clinical needs: Text-based treatment and
self-guided programs are commonly recommended for patients with mild to moderate mental health needs, and in some cases, needs that may not require a formal diagnosis, such as stress or burnout. But for patients with more complex needs, video-based therapy can be a great option.
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF A VIDEO THERAPY SESSION
Bloom acknowledges that while virtual therapy may be an adjustment for some (especially those who were enrolled in in-person therapy prior to the pandemic), it’s a much easier adjustment than many patients anticipate. Here are her tips for making the most of a virtual therapy session:
Find a private, quiet space: Having a designated space to attend therapy sessions will allow patients to feel more present and able to fully engage. While finding a quiet space may be hard for those with children, partners, or roommates, it’s not impossible. Bloom recommends leveraging some creative problem-solving when it comes to utilizing limited space at home. For example, using a bathroom, large closet or pantry with lighting, or even a car, where you can have solo access for the length of your appointment time. Patients may also want to get a small white noise or sound machine that you can easily plug in outside of the door for extra privacy during your sessions at home.
Customize your experience: One of the most important things a patient can do is talk to their provider about the constraints they’re working with and work together to develop a solution that works. This may include video sessions on your mobile device that allow you to walk and talk at the same time, for example.
Build a meaningful connection: Talking over video is surprisingly similar to in-person sessions and does not have to interfere with the ability to build and maintain the meaningful connections that are so important to the therapeutic relationship. One of the first and most important steps in addressing any concerns is for patients to be open and honest with their provider about how they’re feeling. Talking about concerns and experiences helps to increase connection and understanding and allows patients and therapists to work through challenges together.
Block off time: Therapy is about self-care and an opportunity for patients to prioritize their needs. Patients should block time on their schedules to attend therapy — and maybe even schedule a few minutes of buffer time before and after to prepare and decompress. If patients share space with others, let them know that you won’t be available for that time and do the same for work; block that time on the work calendar and let colleagues know that you will not be available for meetings during that time.
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This blog is intended to be informational in nature. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your Care Team or other healthcare provider. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials.