With the click of a mouse or the tap of an app, you can have instant and inexpensive access to a therapist, or so make the claims of many new tools and technologies that want to take psychotherapy out of the therapist’s office and into whatever location you are connected to the Internet. Using the Web can be convenient for the many people who are comfortable using the Internet and looking for help. But before you sign up, log in and start chatting, there are points to consider about telepsychology.
Mental health professionals commonly refer to any online therapy delivered by telecommunication tools or devices as telepsychology. You may hear it called Web therapy, phone therapy, text therapy or online therapy. Anytime you’re interacting with a psychologist using a website, a phone or a mobile app, you could be taking part in telepsychology services.
Technology can contribute to an evolution in how people receive psychotherapy or work with a psychologist. Researchers are taking great interest in telepsychology and telehealth, evaluating how well it works, especially compared to in-person, in-office psychotherapy sessions. But much like the technology, the research is still new, and there is a lot science doesn’t yet know. There are a few points to consider before signing up for any services that are offered exclusively online or by telephone.
Web therapy has a lot of promise and offers benefits compared to in-person psychotherapy.
• It can be convenient. Online therapy can take less time away from the office or your workday or worry about traffic. No need to travel miles to meet up with your psychologist. Dial a number or log in to a site, and the session can happen wherever you are comfortable.
• Compared to traditional in-person therapy, it can sometimes appear less expensive. Some apps will advertise pricing that provides unlimited use for a weekly or monthly fee. Or the online session may seem significantly lower than in-office visits. If you’re not interested in using health insurance for psychotherapy, this can be a benefit. More about insurance and online therapy is discussed in the next section.
• Online communication is very comfortable for many people, especially younger adults or those who use technology often. More people are using email, webinars and text messaging to communicate, and it can seem more comfortable or easier than talking to someone in person, especially when revealing personal or private information.
• It can provide access to those who can’t get to an office. In some rural communities, the nearest psychologist office may be an hour or two drive away. Some people with chronic illnesses or disabilities may not be able to drive or easily able to leave their home. In these situations, Web- or telephone-based therapy may be their only option for help.
Despite the potential benefits, psychologists caution that Web-therapy may not be the best option for everyone or every situation in need of professional support. Here are a few points to consider or ask before signing up:
• Is this the right tool to help me? The research hasn’t yet shown that stand-alone therapy online or via texting is effective for everyone in every situation. Some sites advertise that they offer therapy, but those claims may be misleading or false. For example, the people behind the apps may not be licensed or qualified to provide therapy.
• Is the site or app secure? Will the information I provide remain confidential? Psychotherapy works in part because psychologists ensure that clients have a safe, private space to share deeply personal and sometimes difficult stories, thoughts or emotions. What happens and is said in a therapy office stays there, with the exception of a few situations. The site or app you use should, at a minimum, be HIPAA-compliant and have the ability to verify your identity and your therapist’s identity.
• How will you pay for the service? Many insurance companies cover the treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders — treatment that includes in-person psychotherapy. If you work with a psychologist in her office, your insurance could cover most or all of the fee, depending on whether you need to meet a deductible or have a co-pay. Psychologists will often provide an invoice that you can submit to your insurance company for reimbursement. But online therapy or web therapy services are often not covered or reimbursable by most insurance providers. If you plan to be reimbursed, check with your insurance company first. Otherwise, prepare to pay for the full cost yourself.
Family Psychology Associates will be offering online therapy by the end of the year, 2017. In an effort to make sure that those who require this new technology are able to access it, we are in the process of getting a secure HIPAA-compliant video platform to ensure your privacy during online therapy services. We feel offering these services to those who want or need it is important in making sure they get the mental health services they need, where they choose. We will be announcing a release date soon so make sure to check back often.