Online therapy, whether it be for teens, children, or adults, is used to describe any professional treatment plan applied remotely through a credentialled teletherapy program. While online and phone-based therapy programs have been available for years, they have become much more popular with the advent of voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) technologies, cheap/free videoconferencing tools, and online chat rooms. But, specifically speaking, how does online therapy for teens work? And is it effective?
Credentialed and licensed professional therapists can offer online therapy sessions to clients via safe and secure networks on websites, over the phone, or through special apps. While certain forms of teletherapy are relatively novel, the treatment process itself – remote, voice-based, or video therapy sessions – is heavily researched. Current studies show that teletherapy is not just effective but can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy.
However, there are pros and cons, as well as security and privacy concerns. Online therapy can be an amazing alternative to face-to-face therapy for a number of different teens, including teens with agoraphobia, teens who are uncomfortable with their initial therapy sessions, teens who struggle with face-to-face communication and prefer text or chatting, and other cases.
But it’s important to do your research. Online vulnerabilities can result in a loss of privacy or the leak of private information. It is important to seek out an online therapy service that prioritizes data protection, patient privacy, and is properly credentialed, in addition to providing an ethical and qualitative healthcare service as an experienced therapist.
Does Teletherapy Work?
We know that teletherapy works. However, whether it works equally for everyone is never a guarantee. Some patients respond better to teletherapy than face-to-face therapy sessions. Some patients are the opposite. In some cases, patients respond best to a treatment plan that begins with teletherapy and then segues into traditional therapy sessions. Figuring out a patient’s needs and making the necessary recommendations to alter their treatment is part of every therapist’s job description.
Online Therapy for Mental Health
Teletherapy has been implemented for the treatment of multiple psychological and physical conditions. Telehealth services, whether consulting a patient on at-home pain management techniques during a flare-up of chronic pain, to providing regularly scheduled therapy for depressive symptoms or symptoms of anxiety, have also grown and become more popular over time, including businesses utilizing the telehealth model such as BetterHelp and Talkspace.
Telehealth has become even more vital over the course of the COVID pandemic, as an alternative to traditional therapy, and a way for clients to continue to communicate with their therapist while maintaining safe social distancing practices.
Who Has Access to Teletherapy Services?
These practices have not been without controversy. Not all patients can adequately access teletherapy services due to a lack of personal technical knowledge. Some websites are not safe, not properly credentialed, or do not host professional staff. People who seek teletherapy services are often vulnerable and in need of immediate help. This makes them more likely to be affected by Internet scammers looking to steal private information.
Some problems are less obvious. BetterHelp, for example, landed itself in hot water recently for advertising itself as a matchmaking business between patients and healthcare professionals in YouTube influencer spots. However, the company’s own terms and conditions do not guarantee the help of a mental health professional, nor do they speak to the quality of their so-called “Counselors.”
If you are interested in making the most of a telehealth feature, be sure to utilize the services of a private practice, a mental health clinic, or a credentialed psychiatrist or therapist.
Be sure about the qualifications, experience, and reputation of the professional you wish to work with. Like any other therapy service, it is important that you feel comfortable and confident in your choice of therapist.
How Is Online Therapy for Teens Structured?
Online therapy programs differ from provider to provider. In general, non-public platforms are used to communicate with patients and provide specialized, one-on-one care. These include therapy-specific web platforms, as well as common teleconferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, and Zoom.
Online Therapy and Privacy
In the case of a general-purpose meeting software or business communications platform, passwords and individualized invite links are usually used to ensure privacy. Only platforms that are HIPAA-compliant may be used for telehealth services, including professional teletherapy. That means utilizing only platforms that have the minimum security and encryption standards needed to keep others from easily listening in on your therapy sessions.
Techniques in Online Therapy
Different forms of therapy have been proven effective over online therapy platforms, most importantly including cognitive behavioral therapy.
Your online therapy will be structured according to your needs. That might mean one session per week or as many as five or six weekly sessions. Sessions could be shorter or longer. Some therapists include the use of visual aids, such as PowerPoint presentations and infographics to help teach patients about different treatment techniques, coping mechanisms, and recovery skills. The number of online sessions you require will also differ depending on the severity of your condition, the nature of your diagnosis, and the professional opinions of your psychiatrist.
The First Online Session
Your first few sessions might feel a little awkward. Here are some important tips to make the most out of online therapy:
- Use headphones. Not only does that keep your conversation private, but it can help keep out distracting noises.
- Find a well-lit but quiet part of the house where you can start your therapy in private. A room with a lock and a window, for example.
- If you are using your phone, try to get a tripod or phone stand. This way, your hand won’t get tired from holding the device, and you can use both hands for note-taking.
- Consider getting a notebook to take notes for your therapy and continued recovery. Writing can be helpful in reviewing what you’ve written in the future, but it can also help to keep your therapy lessons fresh in mind.
Most qualified examples of online therapy utilize the professional services of a credentialed therapist. However, there are also therapy-like services offered by websites using trained chatbots or non-professional chatting companions. While some studies do show that teens have successfully used these programs and chatbots to help soothe emotional distress, they are far less effective than a professional service.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Therapy for Teens?
There are a few distinct advantages and potential disadvantages to utilizing online therapy for teens.
- Online therapy is an effective alternative for teens in rural areas or where access to mental healthcare is limited.
- Online therapy is especially helpful for teens who are immunocompromised or struggling with a different chronic health condition and might not want to risk infection.
- Teletherapy services might be cheaper than an outpatient program while offering many of the same perks.
- Online therapy might feel more comfortable to you if you are anxious about visiting a therapist’s office or need to rely on someone else for transportation.
- You may feel more comfortable with private online therapy and may be able to start seeking help without necessarily alerting your family.
However, there are also potential disadvantages to utilizing online therapy for teens.
- Telehealth services, including teletherapy, are not always covered by insurance.
- Some people benefit more greatly from face-to-face treatment. There are limitations to voice-only or screen-based therapy for certain people.
- Online communication requires good verbal and text skills. Your teen might not be able to fully convey how they feel without body language, which can be frustrating.
Looking for Online Therapy for Teens?
Should you consider online therapy as an option for yourself or your teen? Under most circumstances, yes. If you or your loved one might feel more comfortable starting treatment through an online therapy program, then it is certainly an idea worth pursuing, and they can still transition into face-to-face therapy or an outpatient program in the future.