Between the onset of the pandemic and calls for digitalization throughout the world of healthcare, the rise of teletherapy for teens and adults was inevitable. Yet while teletherapy has picked up in adoption, it’s been around for decades in the form of phone therapy, all the way back to the 1960s.
More modern forms of teletherapy conducted via the Internet and through CDs have been researched for years as well, yielding interesting results in favor of those who prefer to receive their therapy at home.
The newest research specifically looks at teletherapy and telepsychiatry during the COVID pandemic, finding that, for example, young people have taken to online therapy quite naturally and that many patients who have had to transition to online therapy, as a result of the pandemic, continued to attend their sessions and seek help online.
To understand how teletherapy can be just as efficacious as the face-to-face counterpart, and how teens can benefit from it, it is important to understand how teletherapy works.
What is Teletherapy?
Teletherapy, telepsychology, online therapy, or even e-therapy are all names used to describe remote therapy, usually applied through the Internet. Therapists stay in touch with their patients via private messaging or email, and schedule sessions via voice call or video call, usually anywhere from once a week to several times a week.
These sessions largely play out the same way conventional face-to-face therapy sessions would, addressing a patient’s concerns and thoughts, and utilizing different activities and exercises to help them cope.
Teletherapy has been around for about as long as modern-day conventional talk therapy, usually in the form of telephone therapy sessions. With the birth of the cellphone and the Internet came the opportunity to engage in therapy via text message, email, voice-over-Internet-protocol, and video conferencing.
While most therapists are primarily educated to treat patients face-to-face, more and more therapists are specializing in providing remote therapy via the Internet. The skillset required for both is quite similar, with there being very few differences between applying therapeutic knowledge online or in person.
Teletherapy is Effective
There is no lack of data supporting the efficacy of teletherapy versus placebo, teletherapy versus in-person therapy, and teletherapy for specific conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and concurrent disorders or mixed diagnoses.
We know that teletherapy works. But there are still considerations that every patient must be reminded of before they begin. Some patients are more comfortable with face-to-face therapy, while others prefer teletherapy. In some cases, therapists might even recommend a mixture of both.
In addition to proven efficacy, we also know that teletherapy is a popular treatment model among teens, both as a means of seeking general help or advice and as a modality for serious mental health conditions.
COVID also proved that our mental healthcare infrastructure was not wholly prepared for the shift towards digital. Therapists were less prepared to provide online therapy in the United States than in some other parts of the world.
The forced acceleration of digitalization because of the pandemic has pushed digital options like telehealth into the forefront of psychiatric medicine, making it a more viable option for patients throughout the country, provided they have an Internet connection–which brings us to the other benefits of teletherapy for teens.
Teletherapy and Access to Care
The greatest benefit of teletherapy is accessibility. Teletherapy is a triumph for patients who struggle with mental health issues, which are often aggravated or compounded by chronic illnesses that might prevent face-to-face treatment, from auto-immune conditions to debilitating pain conditions.
By making therapy accessible from any device that can manage to connect to the Internet, teletherapy opens the doors to teens who otherwise would not get the help they need, whether due to time constraints or location. This can be a real barrier of entry for teens who might not want to go through the “trouble” of therapy because it also means worrying about scheduling conflicts and transportation, especially in places where public transport isn’t a valid option for getting to the therapist’s office in time.
Teletherapy Grants Privacy
In addition to being accessible, teletherapy can help teens conduct their therapy in private.
Teens can opt to discuss and talk to their therapists largely via text, eliminating the fear that their parents or relatives might be listening in, while allowing them to seek help independently and schedule their therapy sessions without their parents or guardians.
This isn’t about withholding information from parents so much as it is about helping teens feel more comfortable with their therapy in general, and less anxious about being overheard, stigmatized, judged, or otherwise spied on by their family members.
Teletherapy Can Be More Affordable
Because teletherapy cuts a number of costs for patients and therapists alike, it is often cheaper than face-to-face therapy. This is another important point of accessibility.
Things to Beware
While teletherapy holds a lot of benefits for teens, it isn’t perfect. There are a few things to keep in mind before opting for teletherapy for yourself or your teen, and it’s important to decide whether these things are relevant in your case. For example:
- Teletherapy may not be covered by your health insurance. While a lot of things have changed since COVID, there are still many health insurance policies that only cover in-person face-to-face talk therapy.
- Teletherapy may be generally as effective as face-to-face treatment, but some teens might respond better to in-person therapy. Teletherapy doesn’t always make it easy to interpret a teen’s body language or carefully observe their reactions to certain questions. This can leave important social and context clues unseen for both the patient and the doctor.
- Online therapy isn’t just video calls and audio messages, a lot of it is written. This requires good written as well as verbal communication skills, which your teen might struggle with.
Teletherapy can be an excellent fit for many teens in need of help, but without the means or access to a nearby therapist. Teletherapy even enables teens who may not necessarily have their relatives’ or parents’ support to seek help. Teletherapy is a vital tool, especially in the post-pandemic world, and will continue to be an important alternative for millions of people around the world looking to get help for their mental health conditions.
Try Teletherapy for Teens Today
If you are considering teletherapy for your teen, be sure to talk to them about it. Ask them what they think and take their opinion into consideration as well. It’s always important that the person getting therapy is comfortable with whom their therapist is and is willing to invest their time and energy into pursuing therapeutic goals with them.