The question, "Have you seen your therapist lately?" is becoming as outdated as the handshake or the high-five.
Fortunately, for those in need of psychological services during this time of crisis, other options are available. It is becoming normal, for instance, for patients to phone, text, and video chat with therapists.
In fact, the shift from in-person to online or phone therapy was in full swing before COVID-19 even entered the equation. And more therapists are taking to Instagram and other social media platforms to grow their online therapy and coaching businesses. It is not uncommon to find therapists with over 50,000 Instagram followers.
While it is unlikely that traditional therapy and counseling services will ever fully go away (they still serve an important function in the delivery and administration of psychological services, especially for high-risk patient populations), even traditional therapy is starting to mobilize. Co-working spaces designed specifically for mental health professionals are starting to pop up around the country. One such space is The Collaborative in Miami, Florida, run by Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Psychology Today contributor Whitney Goodman. These co-working spaces help therapists stay flexible as they transition their businesses to meet the demand for remote therapy services. It also gives therapists an opportunity to network with other therapists.
With quarantines and mandatory confinements in full swing, even therapists who were traditionally opposed to administering therapy outside of an office setting are now embracing teletherapy out of necessity.
Online therapy is not without its challenges. There are, for instance, some important privacy issues to navigate. Certain modes of online communication, such as FaceTime, are not HIPAA compliant while others, such as Doxy.me and Zoom for healthcare, are.
What does the research say about the effectiveness of online therapy and teletherapy versus face-to-face therapy? Overall, the evidence is encouraging. A 2012 JAMA article found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was equally effective when administered via telephone as it was when administered face-to-face. Moreover, the researchers found the client attrition rate to be lower for teletherapy — probably because it is more convenient for patients.
Mindfulness interventions are also being increasingly delivered via the internet. A 2016 meta-analysis found that online mindfulness-based interventions generally have a small but significantly beneficial impact on depression. Another study found teletherapy to be as good traditional therapy for treating depression, if not better. And this is not to mention the other benefits of teletherapy: it's more affordable, more convenient, most patients consider it more private than traditional therapy, and it vastly expands the number of therapists patients can choose to work with.
Sometimes, it takes a profound "shock to the system" to usher in a new way of doing things. In the case of online therapy, coronavirus may have done just that.
I write articles based on my experience as a therapist or a training or conference attendee. Many of these articles are written by others who are experts in their field and I share their information as resources for others.