Telehealth: A Change for the Better?

In March of 2020, with enactments of stay-at-home orders across the nation, health care providers scrambled to implement telehealth platforms in order to ensure people would be able to access necessary services to keep them well. Telehealth is the delivery of health care services via an online video platform where the provider and client/patient see each other’s faces. Various healthcare services are available via telehealth, including mental health services.

This change from primarily in-person services to virtual services shifted the health care landscape dramatically. It has not only upended how health care is delivered, but how people are experiencing health care. Just like all change, it comes with its pros and cons.

“I miss your laughter bouncing off my office walls.”

There is so much happening right now amid the COVID-19 pandemic which has left all of us feeling afraid, angry, and sad. On top of that, we are being asked to isolate ourselves from one another for the sake of public health. Although we take that task seriously at JustUs Health, I know our staff misses the ability to shake a hand, offer a comforting huge, and to hear the resonance of laughter during our appointments.

In addition to the emotional toll, other complicated elements can arise. Homeless clients, clients who are living in spaces where they don’t have privacy, or even clients who are in dangerous situations can make telehealth impossible. Also depending on what kind of work you are doing, some of the tools that may normally be used in your sessions may be unavailable—fidgets, EMDR equipment, art therapy supplies, and play therapies for example. Some of the unconscious cues that help prepare you for a session may be gone like the receptionist’s warm greeting, the commute to your session, or even the coffee or tea you prepare prior to going into your session. Each of these things prepare you to be in a session.

“There just seems to be an ease about you in your home space.”

Despite these challenges, there is emerging evidence that teletherapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. Therapists are reporting their clients are more relaxed at home as clients are in their own environments and have other supports available to them, such as pets or personal affects. With the intense focus on the face and upper body, therapists are noticing more facial cues, subtle movements, and eye contact. These things may seem bizarre to identify as helpful, but these components have led, in our team’s experience, to deep intimacy, closeness, awareness, and connection.

In addition to this, culturally-competent providers are able to reach rural areas. These underserved areas are going to begin seeing outreach as organizations strengthen their telehealth services and explore outreach outside of the Metro Area.

A Long-Term Change

No matter how you slice the pie, telehealth is a major change for health clients/patients and providers. However, it seems it is here to stay—with the increased understanding of how to use it and the increased capacities for therapists to be available to diverse health care consumers across the state without needing to come to a physical site, this option is now going to be a staple of mental health services. Whether you are experiencing sadness, anger, fear, happiness, loneliness, or whatever it is that is stirring inside of you, mental practitioners are there for you and telehealth is a great way to get that support.