The Benefits of Using Teletherapy for Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy

By 
Dr. Noah Kass

TELETHERAPY AND THE PANDEMIC

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many businesses and services, and our psychotherapy practice has been no exception. Given today’s high-tech world, our practice, like many others, have turned to virtual therapy, or teletherapy, to continue working with clients during an especially trying time. Interestingly, there are many indications that teletherapy may continue as the delivery method of choice for many people even after the current pandemic has passed.


In a press release, Dr. Marc Shulman of Long Island Psychology explained it well when he stated that “remote therapy isn’t new...but COVID-19 seems to have sped up adoption to a rapid degree, as it has opened up people's minds to the idea of teletherapy due to its convenience, efficiency, and high quality of care.” 


Because in-person therapy doesn’t traditionally require physical contact between therapist and patient, online communication tools like video chat are a perfect medium for continuing therapy when client and therapist can’t be in the same room.

Virtual therapy sessions follow the same protocols as in-person visits, and teletherapy can be applied to a diverse range of concerns, including anxiety, depression, and trauma. Teletherapy can involve the combination of a number of technologies — from video calls via Zoom or Skype to text messaging services to phone-based apps; all of these technologies can be used to deliver therapy services. However, many of these methods may compromise privacy. For instance, Zoom calls have been known to have been hacked, and text messaging lends itself to a partner intercepting the message. Because of this, NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy uses a HIPAA-compliant and secure video system, and encourages anyone doing teletherapy to do so as well.


When researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University surveyed licensed psychologists across the US about their practices during the pandemic, they found a staggering 26-fold increase in the use of teletherapy sessions during this national health emergency, with just over 67% of survey respondents reporting that they are using teletherapy exclusively. A survey from the American Psychological Association found that 75% of clinicians are only engaging in teletherapy, with an additional 16% using a combination of in-person and virtual services. 

CLINICAL BENEFITS OF TELETHERAPY

Research suggests that teletherapy can be just as effective as in-person sessions, with additional studies being conducted to track outcomes, engagement, and therapist ratings when comparing video sessions to daily messaging. Peer-reviewed studies of teletherapy show equivalent efficacy to in-person therapy for treating PTSD, anxiety, and depression, with much of this research being driven by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, a pioneer in using teletherapy due to the fact that many veterans often live in more remote areas.


As noted in the The New York Times, video-based calls offer the added benefit of giving therapists “a literal window into the patient’s home,” which offers a richer and fuller understanding of clients’ daily environment.

CONVENIENCE, FLEXIBILITY, AND MORE

The benefits of teletherapy extend beyond the efficacy of treatment. By using technology to make therapy more convenient and more accessible, virtual therapy eliminates some very real barriers to treatment.

These virtual sessions are convenient for clients and therapists alike; with appointments often conducted from home, the commute to the office is eliminated, which can translate to a significant reduction in time for a client for each session. 

Clients are afforded more options in choosing a therapist to work with virtually, since proximity to the therapist is no longer a major concern for the client. According to Dr. Shulman in the aforementioned article, “it is more important to find [a therapist] you connect with than to concern oneself with the location, and now that remote therapy has been so widely adopted, it opens the door for more people to see what these benefits are for themselves.” It should be noted that clinicians are still bound by the licensing laws of their states, though some of those rules have been loosened during the pandemic. At the same time, given the growing popularity of teletherapy and the way in which geographical boundaries may be changing through organizations like PSYPACT, the future may look very different. 


There is high reported satisfaction with teletherapy appointments across the board, and additional benefits include being able to serve clients in remote areas with few local therapy options and offering services to those burdened by transportation, disability, or other access issues. Teletherapy can also result in lower overall costs for clients when commuting, requiring child care, and other financial and time constraints are removed from the equation. Additionally, people no longer feel anxiety about being recognized by acquaintances or coworkers in a therapist’s waiting room.

 

“Receiving treatment is far less cumbersome, which significantly decreases your stress level, which is a huge part of why you’re in there,” said a 43-year-old female veteran in South Carolina, quoted in The New York Times about teletherapy appointments for treatment of depression and PTSD. In the same article, another teletherapy client mentioned that the absence of a commute for treatment of social anxiety and depression means “there’s not as much time to hype yourself up…there’s less time to ruminate.” 


Virtual therapy also expands the reach of therapy services to underserved populations who might not otherwise have access; for example, therapists are finally able to treat clients in rural communities that were unable to access care before. According to a 2017 study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 42.6% of the 46.6 million Americans with mental health issues had received treatment. Virtual appointments via teletherapy can open virtual doors to help ensure more people get the help they need.

VIRTUAL HYPNOTHERAPY

Hypnosis is the use of language to induce a relaxed state and promote change. Although some individuals worry that virtual hypnotherapy may not be as effective, virtual appointments for hypnotherapy have been on the rise during the pandemic

Virtual appointments might even be more effective than in-person sessions, because clients are able to remain in the familiar comfort of their own environment, which can facilitate deeper work since clients are already feeling relaxed and secure.

As such, more and more clients have been able to take advantage of the many benefits of virtual therapy and hypnosis via video therapy with licensed professionals.

TELETHERAPY CONCERNS

Although teletherapy has been extremely useful and expanding during the pandemic, there are some factors to take into consideration when choosing whether to engage in it and who to choose as a provider. For one, it is important to find a therapist who is ensuring they are encrypting data and using compliant platforms for video calls and messaging so as not to run afoul of HIPPA or other security issues. Additionally, offering teletherapy appointments also means complying with state licensing regulations both where the therapist is practicing and where the client is receiving services, so it’s very important to make sure you’re always working with a licensed professional.


Additionally, this New York Times article mentions that Medicare and many private insurers now cover most teletherapy appointments, and that Skype and FaceTime calls may be a viable option when other systems are unavailable. If you’re planning to use insurance, it’s always a good idea to speak to your insurance provider before beginning services to make sure telehealth is covered if that's important to you. 


Lastly, technical issues — like slow internet speeds and software hiccups — are also a concern for some people. And even when the technology is working well, there’s the matter of clients being able to find a quiet and private location at home for their appointments, at a time when households are sheltering in place together. Clients may worry about family members being able to hear their therapy sessions, and there can be concerns about privacy and quiet on both ends of these calls, as therapists also have to carve out time and space to work from home. So before engaging in teletherapy, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead to ensure you will have the privacy you need and good WiFi or telephone service.

LOOKING FORWARD WITH TELETHERAPY

Even with these growing pains, The COVID-19 Telepsychology Revolution: A National Study of Pandemic-Based Changes in U.S. Mental Health Care Delivery indicates that many surveyed psychotherapists intend to continue using teletherapy through the pandemic and beyond. With increased convenience, solid effectiveness, and improved access to underserved communities, teletherapy looks like it will remain — both for my practice and for the field of psychotherapy in general.


Dr. Noah Kass is a Psychotherapist at NY Health Hypnosis & Integrative Therapy. To learn more about how mindfulness & hypnotherapy can help you or to make an appointment, please contact us here.

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