Over the past decade, the use of telemental health services (aka ‘skype’ therapy’ have become commonplace in many counseling practices. Although telemental health seems like a relatively new concept, its origins can be traced back a hundred years ago when clients and psychiatrists would correspond through writing letters. As technology advanced, videoconferencing provided opportunities for professionals to connect over long distances. Recently, telemental health services popularity directly increased with consumer demands and the rise of social media platforms. We’ve become accustomed to connecting with others in virtual environments, which has made telemental counseling more comfortable and accessible for many people.
How are Services Delivered?
Videoconferencing, allows a counselor to see his/her client in a ‘virtual’ face-to-face session. In order to ethically provide telemental health services, a counselor must find a HIPAA compliant online platform or software, which must pass specific HIPAA security measures. Several programs are available for download or purchase that meet these HIPAA guidelines. Programs vary in prices and accessibility– ranging from free to costly recurring fees.
Free Telehealth platforms:
Telemental health also include email and messaging, making it possible for counselors to provide additional support in-between sessions. There are also telemental health services available through websites, such as talkspace, tranQool, and betterhelp, which often require counselors to be fully licensed and not under supervision.
Benefits of services
Telemental health provides accessibility to services in areas where mental health services are scarce (i.e. rural, urban, and underserved communities). Through the use of telemental healthcare, school counselors can connect with students in communities unable to afford counselors, addiction counselors and treatment teams can support long-distance court ordered clients, and mental health counselors can provide counseling to clients that prefer talking in the security of their own home. Telemental health counseling is generally an inexpensive practice, due to the lower overhead costs. This translates to charging less for sessions, providing affordability for all. As of January 2017, Insurances in Washington now cover telehealth services!
The efficacy of telemental healthcare is comparable with that of traditional face-to-face counseling. In one study at John Hopkins University, researchers found that the rates of the hospitalization of veterans decreased 25% for those participating in online counseling. Other research studies have found that clients report the same or higher satisfaction of services provided through telemental healthcare.
Challenges of counseling through telecommunication
With the many benefits to telemental healthcare, there are some challenges to be aware of. Digital information security is difficult to guarantee as confidential, so it is critical that a counselor you choose uses a HIPAA compliant platform to provide sessions and to transfer confidential documents (i.e. intake paperwork). Definitions of telemental health also vary from federal law to state law and from state-to-state, making it difficult to practice in areas that you are not licensed in. Other challenges include being unable to see complete body language, providing safety measures when client is at risk, and finding insurance companies to reimburse for telemental health services
Through the use of telecommunication, we are able to provide accessibility and flexibility to a wide range of individuals near and far. Research has confirmed the efficacy of telemental health, indicating the need to utilize its unique capability to provide care for those lacking in resources. Although telemental healthcare has challenges, the expansion and improvements in technology are already working towards promoting ethical and HIPAA compliant services. In conclusion, telemental health counseling allows us to break through the barriers of distance and inaccessibility, while providing help for those who really need it.
Kylie Chaffin, Licensed Mental Health Counselor.