- A new report suggests that telehealth is making mental health services more accessible to people in remote communities as well as those who cannot attend face-to-face sessions.
- However, the researchers point out that a lack of internet access and knowledge of technology can make telehealth services more difficult for some people.
- They also note that some people using telehealth services are less committed and more dispersed than people using services in person.
Virtual counseling sessions for mental health conditions can be effective for some people, but the limitations of technology and other barriers to care must be addressed in order for ‘remote’ care to be more universally applicable,
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of telehealth services, including mental health services, according to researchers from the Mental Health Policy Research Unit of the British National Institute for Healthcare Research at King’s College London and University College London.
However, the researchers say experience and research shows that the effectiveness of telehealth can be significantly influenced – good or bad – by factors such as access to private and confidential spaces, the ability to develop therapeutic doctor-patient relationships, individual preferences and circumstances, and health issues. Technology is like the quality of your internet connection.
“We live in an increasingly digital world, and the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the role of technology in mental health care,” Katherine Saunders, PhD, MA, study co-author and research associate in mental health policy at King’s College, said in a press release. “Our study found that while certain groups benefit from the opportunities that telehealth can offer, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Receiving telehealth requires access to a device, an Internet connection, and an understanding of technology. If real-world barriers to telehealth are ignored. In the interest of broader implementation, we risk embedding more inequality into our healthcare system.”
The study published in Interactive Journal of Medical Research, I found thatThe use of telehealth is becoming increasingly widespread and is particularly valuable for serving people in remote communities and in situations where face-to-face counseling is not possible.
“I think telehealth is effective with proper risk management strategies in place,” he said Judy Tinglingfounder of the Canada-based Creating New Steps Mental Health Counseling Program.
“In my experience with providing CBT online during the height of the pandemic, this has been a great alternative to traditional face-to-face therapy when there are effective risk management strategies in place,” she told Healthline.
Ideally, the researchers said, remote health interventions delivered via video calls, phone or text messages, could increase access to care.
However, the study found that providing mental health care remotely was less beneficial for people without internet or phone access, those with socioeconomic disadvantages, people with cognitive difficulties, hearing or visual impairments, and those with Severe mental health problems.
“Customers who are paranoid or highly anxious, whose symptoms may be exacerbated by a lack of trust in the platform or technology, will need to work with someone in person,” Sabrina EadsLPC, a therapist at Enteave Counselling in Austin, Texas, told Healthline.
“For these people, we recommend the need to ensure that face-to-face care continues to be available in a timely manner,” Sonya JohnsonMA, director of the Center for Mental Health Policy Research at King’s College London and senior author of the study.
The study reported that patients who received both medication and counseling via text messages and video calls were 4 times more likely to have remission of suicidal ideation compared to those in the control group.
Andrea RoelA social worker who practices telehealth in Toronto on the Family Health Team and Private Practice, told Healthline that virtual counseling is becoming more acceptable and even preferable to traditional in-person therapy.
“Although we now offer a choice between in-person, phone and video calls to conduct our sessions, the majority of people willingly choose to have sessions over the phone,” she said. “Now people seem to agree with providers that a phone or video session is more appropriate.”
However, Roel said experience has shown that people may sometimes be less obligated to give advice via telehealth, especially if it is given for free.
“Treatment is all about communication,” she said. “Over the phone, part of the therapist’s role is withdrawn when therapists are unable to comment on their clients’ body language. I recommend video therapy because of your ability to create face-to-face contact while still taking advantage of the comforts of the comfort of your own home… The start that space has to be discreet and that there would be a recommendation to move to someone if the client would feel more involved in this way.”
Distraction can be another disadvantage of telehealth Misha Jacksonmental health counselor and owner of the Healing Journey Counselling Center in Monroe, Louisiana.
“There are some patients who try to undergo treatment at work, driving in the car, or while their young children are at home,” she told Healthline. “Therapists should set boundaries and inform the client that they should conduct the session in an environment such as home or work. [where there are] Don’t get distracted.”
Michelle WagnerThe CEO of virtual mental health platform Mindstrong, told Healthline that telehealth is needed to overcome the shortage of mental health counselors nationwide, which often leads to long and dangerous delays in getting care.
“Virtual platforms often improve outcomes because access to care is more urgent and more attractive,” Wagner said.
Patients are often more open and comfortable in their own homes. Additionally, telehealth services do not maintain their traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours, Monday through Friday, and most have options for patients to connect with therapists between appointments. This helps therapists manage medications in real time, measure progress, and intervene before a patient goes through a crisis, she added.