Telehealth, also known as the provision of healthcare remotely by means of telecommunications technology, has taken center stage as an accessible option for organizations that provide mental health care. Although the push to provide telehealth options has been catalyzed by the impact of COVID-19, one question remains: Will telehealth continue to be offered as a treatment beyond this historic point in time?
As the national context continues to adapt to the changes brought about by the pandemic, many mandates that have allowed folks to access telehealth are nearing the end of their proposed dates. However, there is quite an argument to be made in favor of the continued provision of services through phone calls and secured video conference software. This article aims to explore the multitude of benefits associated with telehealth, and hopefully will lend support to the extension of these benefits.
Here are seven benefits of telehealth therapy:
1. Continued relationships between mental health providers and clients
Before the pandemic, many organizations were operating in person. Therapy in the same room as a mental health professional was largely thought of as key to establishing rapport and building a trustworthy relationship with clients. The shift to virtual therapy options has challenged this belief. This “magic component” of face-to-face interaction, while missed by some, has proved itself able to be replicated on screens and through the phone. Some clinicians have even pointed to the added layer of distance between themselves and their clients as a benefit for clients who struggle with building connections with others due to social anxiety, something many people have been struggling with since before COVID-19.
2. Removal of logistical barriers to treatment
Getting clients to continue attending sessions in person can prove difficult for those who do not have access to reliable transportation, face anxiety when in new and unfamiliar settings, have limited time to travel, and are juggling multiple responsibilities related to child care. Having the option to log on seconds before your appointment without needing to worry about finding parking, navigating a new space, or acquiring child care has opened the door for many folks who were unable to attend therapy before being able to commit to bettering their lives.
3. Accommodations for those with differing abilities
For those who are marginalized due to differences in ability, such as hearing loss, loss of mobility, etc., telehealth has offered accommodations that were unavailable prior to COVID-19. Programs like Zoom offer a chatbox and automated closed-captioning to assist those who are hard of hearing to participate more meaningfully in sessions. Further, the remote nature of telehealth also makes it easier for folks who have difficulty moving about to find a way to participate in their mental health journey from the comfort of their home.
4. Increased accessibility for multiple marginalized populations
In a similar fashion, historically underserved populations – such as those who live in remote or hard-to-reach areas, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, BIPOC communities, and LGBTQIA+ communities – are now more likely to be able to receive much needed mental health services. For example, culturally appropriate mental health care providers are still a minority and rare in the realm of mental health care. To remove the barrier of distance from the search for such a provider has allowed BIPOC people and LGBTQIA+ communities to more effectively find a clinician who shares the same identity as themselves.
5. More consistency between sessions
Disturbances to routines – caused by many of the logistical barriers previously discussed – pose a threat to successful mental health treatment. For instance: what if someone needs to move due to a job loss? This question is especially important due to the reality of the current job market. If a client moves, that would usually indicate the end of services. But, with telehealth as an option, clinicians can continue to provide these services, and clients can continue to make progress with someone they have already spent time building a trustworthy relationship with.
6. Anonymity and privacy
This point, in particular, can apply to many populations, but I would like to focus on two in particular: LGBTQIA+ clients and clients who are in abusive relationships. These two groups may seem at first unrelated, but when considering that both may need anonymity and a quiet way to access therapeutic services due to non-affirming and/or dangerous home environments, the relationship becomes clearer. Having chat boxes as a telehealth option allows for both populations to connect with a mental health provider and lets them disclose sensitive information without the fear of someone in their home overhearing the conversation.
7. Increased health safety
There is ample evidence to suggest that stress, a symptom experienced by many who receive mental health services, negatively impacts immune systems. This is especially true for those who are already immunocompromised. Telehealth eliminates the worry of spreading and catching diseases, and even allows clients to continue to attend sessions while they are sick. This extra layer of protection may also encourage folks who suffer from health-related phobias to receive treatment as well.