The COVID-19 pandemic created a surge in online counseling services. While telehealth has been available for decades, it’s never been embraced more fully by counselors and patients alike, who are seeing the many benefits of counseling online. Whether at home, in their car or at another convenient location, people can get the help they need without any of the traditional barriers to care.
According to the American Psychological Association, in-person and virtual therapy produce similar outcomes. A physical presence isn’t necessary for a competent counselor to access a patient and then create a treatment plan that is effective. This shows providers that they need to adapt, even after the immediate need for telehealth is over.
Benefits of Telehealth for Counseling
Virtual counseling availability especially benefits individuals in small towns and rural areas who have a limited choice of counseling providers. They may not want to see a man or woman or someone who is related to them. Telehealth offers them a wide range of options, and makes it more likely the patient will find someone they feel comfortable speaking to about sensitive issues. A woman who has issues with male relationships may prefer to speak to another woman, or a man may feel more comfortable speaking to someone about his marital issues with someone who didn’t attend high school with his spouse.
Transportation is less of a worry with telehealth counseling. Traditionally, people without a car or access to public transportation found their counseling choices limited. With online counseling services, individuals do not have limits to who they can see because they don’t need a ride or have to depend on a bus schedule to make an appointment.
Virtual counseling can offer excellent insights to a patient’s home environment. Providers can see the patient’s home, albeit from a limited perspective, in the background and get a realistic view of what issues they deal with daily. If there is constant fighting and/or stress, it is bound to appear in the background or over the telephone.
There is also no fear of getting sick from a virtual counseling session. Safety shouldn’t be a concern for someone who is hesitant to seek help in the first place. Virtual help eliminates at least one barrier to care effectively.
Major insurers are generally supportive of online counseling with expanded telehealth coverage. They often require counselors to HIPAA-compliant platform, sometimes specific ones that they approve. The Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact is committed to increasing access to mental health care by allowing psychologists to practice across state lines remotely.
Online counseling has made a high speed Internet connection in a private setting a necessity for those seeking help. Telehealth services, especially counseling sessions, require patients to be open and honest with their provider. Some individuals find this easier by video chat or a phone call than in person, but they won’t open up when there’s a possibility someone could overhear them. Telehealth has changed counseling services by encouraging libraries and community centers to open their doors to people looking for private space to talk to a counselor.
Despite its many benefits, online therapy has limitations. Counselors can’t access non-verbal communications or body language. Also hands-on therapy isn’t possible. Group therapy isn’t possible. Patients cannot benefit from the experiences of others.
Online counseling is here to stay. This is fortunate because increased social distancing can cause special issues, like anxiety for the particularly vulnerable. It’s ideal for people struggling with new feelings of anxiety because of the pandemic and those who want to continue care they received prior to COVID-19 while still maintaining social distancing.