Telehealth NY

How Teletherapy Can Benefit You

I’m a therapist who is transparent about seeking therapy for myself, and who believes both teletherapy and therapy is helpful for almost all people, regardless of the circumstances. Throughout my years, I have undergone my own therapy for different reasons, from wanting support for the trauma I experienced, to learning how to gain the self-esteem needed for me to break free from domestic violence, for simple advice about navigating through transitions, as well as for a means to cope as a caregiver for two parents who both were terminal. Sometimes, too, it felt cathartic just to be able to “vent” to a nonjudgmental, compassionate individual.

Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, it isn’t easy to get a therapist! I’ve had to leave voicemails, emails, and private messages for many local therapists – quite a few who never got back to me, and most who said, “sorry, I’d love to help you but I’m full” without any advice about who I could go to instead. Alternatively, for the therapists who did respond, there were issues with the commute (I require public transportation due to a neurodevelopmental disability) or with timing. For part of my treatment saga, I was also in graduate school and working a full-time job on top of balancing a mandatory field placement, which made it seemingly impossible to fit in self-care for myself.

Talk about irony! I remember it so vividly. I was a social work student learning how to be a therapist, employed at a community mental health agency while also interning at a private practice. I made the time to be there for my clients at the expense of ignoring my own needs. I desperately wanted a therapist of my own, but with the transportation issue, an unforgiving schedule, and the lack of available therapists in the area, how could I?

Then the pandemic happened. The world shut down. Overnight, I had to change meeting with clients face-to-face to going online. I will admit I came with a bias. Years before, during orientation for my social work undergraduate program, a rather old-fashioned professor rambled about why online therapy is a “threat” to the field. Mainly it was that she assumed HIPAA could not be honored or that the relationship was not as “real and organic.” However, now after being exclusively a remote-based therapist since the pandemic to the present, I must admit I respectfully disagree with her. Some of my most intimate, heart-to-heart conversations have been over a video screen. I have shared in my client’s sorrows, hopes, fears, joys, celebrations, and hardships. And I have seen glimpses into the very environment where they spend most of their time – their homes. There is something so powerful, insightful, and raw about seeing one’s home which cannot be captured through the spoken word while in a therapy office. It is truly a privilege to be trusted with seeing the private spaces of my clients, and in turn they get to see mine. Furthermore, teletherapy allows for me to work with anyone if their primary residence is New York State, going far beyond the borders of Suffolk County. This means the people who choose me as their therapist do so because they want to work with me, not because of just location. This arrangement has allowed me to blossom as a specialist in turn, having clients who all fit into my niches (grief/bereavement, complex trauma or C-PTSD, caregiving stress, and/or people with debilitating disease).

Thanks to teletherapy, I too got to have my own weekly therapy. After a somber event happened, I needed a therapist to process my emotions. One therapist who replied to me in a timely fashion offered teletherapy to anyone in the state. She offered everything I needed – experience, knowledge, efficiency, she even liked the challenge of having other therapists as her clients! Perfect! Yet best of all, the flexibility of being online allowed me the flexibility I required to remain efficient in my own role as a therapist to the people I serve. It was simple: I only needed to log in to the teleconference platform right before the session start time. This allowed me to never miss a scheduled session, be proactive about my recovery, and let my “therapy time” truly be 45 minutes (rather than adding in commuting time, which of course could be delayed due to an accident or inclement weather!). Plus, this also meant I got to have more time for other commitments in my life.

Still feeling unsure about teletherapy? Here’s some perks.

There are numerous reasons why teletherapy is beneficial. Here are a few in summary.

Privacy (the BIG one!)

Have you ever ran into someone you know while in the waiting room? Worse, was it someone you have difficulty with because you two do not get along? Yep, talk about awkward. Back in high school, I remember being in the waiting room at a therapist’s office when suddenly a girl I knew came in to pick up her younger sibling. She was best friends with a bully who absolutely loved to torment me. Yep… awkward.

Want to hear another unsettling story? That practice was so disorganized with communication that there was always competition for rooms. One time while I was there, one of the therapists came into the waiting room to ask if any of us would be willing to have our session in the kitchen – the public kitchen, where staff and clients alike could come and go to get coffee. Yeah, I’m not kidding. Talk about a HIPAA violation!

Or maybe you have been spared such severe examples, but most of us can relate to at least this experience: Have you ever overheard the entire conversation between the patient and the clinician while at a doctor or therapist’s office? Or have attempts to soundproof the rooms still proven impossible? I’ve been there, too.

Fortunately, with teletherapy you do not need to be concerned about coming across someone you know in the waiting room, parking lot, or restroom. You can schedule your session for a time where you will have optimal privacy and confidentiality, whether that be in your home, your car, or even in your backyard. 

Flexibility

Going to a session is easy when you do not have to drive to and from the therapy office! Clients can schedule their session during lunch break, before work or class, during their baby’s naptime or when the toddler is watching Sesame Street, or any other gap. In turn, it allows me to offer a wider schedule to also suit my clients’ needs.

Flexibility is especially important for clients who otherwise would not be able to fit therapy into their schedules at all. For example, for my clients who are caregivers, it would be impossible for them to commit to in-person therapy because they would need to arrange for care for both the session and the commute. However, with teletherapy, they are only “away” from their loved one for 45 minutes, and they also have the option to step away from the computer to care for them, if needed. Or as another example, say the client has a serious medical issue. They can prioritize their doctors’ appointments without having to suffer from a late cancelation fee because chances are, I can fit them into another time slot for that week. This is not always the case for in-person therapists because they tend to have stricter “on the clock” hours.

Accessibility for People with Illness or Disability

Sadly, although therapists tend to think they are sensitive to those with medical issues, this is often not the case. Their hearts may be in the right place, but they simply do not understand why going to an appointment in-person can be a great challenge. It is one thing for an office to be “ADA-friendly” by having an elevator. But what if the elevator fails? What if the parking lot is full of potholes? What if there is no ramp at the entrance or no automatic door? What if the restroom door is very heavy? What if the person needs their caregiver to help ambulate them but the only appointment times available do not work for the caregiver?

What if the person has IBS or Crohn’s disease? Or maybe they are pregnant? The fear of waiting in line for the restroom is a legitimate concern for such people, in addition to the embarrassment that comes with nosy strangers.

If you have limitations due to an illness, disability, or medical procedure, you may be unable to make it into the office, which will hinder treatment during when it is most needed. Teletherapy removes these barriers by allowing you to “log in” from the comfort of your bed.

Continuity of Treatment for College Students

For some youth, their connection with their therapist is one of the healthiest, strongest relationships they have with an adult. They make great progress, tackling the core beliefs or issues or whatever it is that is hurting them… until they must discontinue therapy because they are moving away for college. In the best-case scenario, the therapist may just happen to know another therapist who is in that area and can take on the referral – but that is almost never the reality. Usually, the treatment is terminated, and the client is left floating, just waiting to hopefully get some help through the counseling center at their college. These colleges may not have enough counselors available to assist every student, lack the training needed for issues that go beyond “typical college stuff,” or other limitations.

On the flip side, with teletherapy, college students can keep their therapist, even those going to a college outside of their home state! In my case, I can keep every student who began with me in high school and has since left for a college that is far away. The only requirement is that their primary address must still be in New York, which usually is the case for college students as they tend to “go home” during breaks.

Reduced Wait-Times

In an in-person setting, there may be a considerable wait time to get an appointment with a particular therapist. However, remote-based therapists tend to have more time slots open and allow themselves to be more available. For instance, if someone needs to reschedule a session with me, that is much easier to accommodate because I can log on during a time when I usually do not work. On the other hand, an in-person therapist may only be able to offer times that are bad for the client, or say they are completely unavailable because otherwise they may have to drive to the office for just one session.

Effectiveness (yes, teletherapy is just as good as in-person therapy!)

Evidence-based research supports that teletherapy is highly-effective for most clients, issues, and modalities – and generally, teletherapy is just as useful as in-person therapy. Sometimes it is even more effective since clients may feel more relaxed being in their homes.

It is only a myth that teletherapy is a “diluted” version of in-person therapy. In truth, most modalities (i.e., EMDR, DBT) can be easily adapted to an online version. For instance, there is a website I use for the bilateral stimulation used with my EMDR clients.

For more reasons as to why teletherapy may be the right option for you or your child, click here.

Valerie Smith, LMSW