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Telehealth Therapy: A Helpful Tool for Our Times

Everything from job interviews to birthday parties is moving online these days in response to the coronavirus pandemic - and that includes mental health counseling. To meet the demand for online services, our experienced Mindful Ways to Wellness practitioners are now offering sessions via telehealth to those in St. Pete, the Tampa Bay area, and beyond. If you want to connect with one of our mental health specialists or schedule a free 30-minute consultation click here. If you're wondering if therapy over video chat is as effective as in-person sessions, read on.

Research consistently shows that virtual therapy can deliver the same outcomes as in-person treatment for a variety of issues, including depression, anxiety disorders, stress-related problems, interpersonal difficulties, and PTSD. Practitioners have utilized this technology for over a decade to provide valuable support to those who have limited access to providers, live in rural areas, or are homebound. This is why this virtual tool is so well-suited to the pandemic situation; it provides accessibility to those practicing social distancing. Telehealth sessions are being used now more than ever to help those with existing mental health conditions, as well as those dealing with newly-elevated stress levels that could lead to anxiety or depression if left unchecked. This article will discuss why telehealth has become the leading mental health solution for our times and will also prove the technology's effectiveness by examining several studies from the last ten years.

A Solution for Our Times

More than a decade of research indicates that telehealth therapy is successful in treating a variety of mental health issues and is frequently used in a variety of circumstances. With this in mind, we can look at its advantages that are specific to the pandemic situation. COVID-19 has brought with it a myriad of difficult circumstances. Now more than ever, people need additional support in dealing with the uncertainty and various challenges that have arisen. First, the opportunity for continuous, high-level care for existing clients is critical. With telehealth available, no one should need to worry about losing the progress they had made toward their mental wellness.

Those who were not in therapy before the crisis can benefit as well. In a 2013 literature review, authors Perle and Neirenberg pointed out that telehealth can be a helpful proactive and preventive measure for those with general stress and low-level anxiety or depression. Telehealth sessions during times of heightened stress can help keep patients' difficulties from developing into more serious mental health issues.

This is important during the pandemic and its resulting social distancing measures. Many who had been able to successfully manage their stress levels may now be struggling to cope with new challenges like a lack of job security, increased isolation, fear and uncertainty, and the upheaval of work-life balance caused by quarantines. Being able to access a therapist for even a handful of sessions can help folks on their way to better coping mechanisms and healthier perspectives. Many practitioners even offer sliding scale payment options for clients during this trying time. Click here to reserve your free, 30-minute consultation with a qualified mental health clinician.

The benefits of telehealth for psychotherapy extend beyond our current situation, as well. The proven effectiveness of telehealth means that it can continue to be the best option for many people, even after lockdowns end. For example, virtual therapy allows for increased ability to receive counseling for those in rural and remote areas. Additionally, it improves access to therapy for many people regardless of location, including those with challenging work hours or those who struggle to find the energy and mental momentum necessary to make it to in-person sessions because of their depression and anxiety symptoms.

An Effective Approach

The convenience of telehealth would be meaningless, though, if it were not highly effective for treating psychological issues. Fortunately, its success has been shown by studies examining a number of different scenarios and mental health conditions. Depression treatment, in particular, is well-suited to virtual therapy.

One 2014 research paper, for example, focused on low-income, homebound older adults with depression (Choi et al.). All participants received six sessions of therapy, either via video chat or in-person with a follow-up care call. While both approaches were effective in treating depression, those receiving telehealth therapy did even better in the long term. As we all move into a semi-homebound state during lockdowns and social distancing, the isolation felt by seniors confined to their homes becomes more relatable to the average population, making this study especially relevant.

The case for telehealth therapy for depression is also strengthened by research on telehealth PTSD treatment. In multiple studies of veterans with PTSD (Battaglia et al., 2016; Yuen et al., 2015), not only did their PTSD symptoms show improvement, their depression and anxiety symptoms were also reduced.

Of course, the success of those studies is important for the treatment of PTSD itself. For veterans with PTSD, a variety of telehealth approaches have proven effective. Motivational interviewing over the phone, for example, resulted in reduced depression and PTSD symptoms when compared to only using an automated telehealth device (Battaglia et al., 2016). Meanwhile, exposure-based therapy over video chat showed equally positive outcomes compared to in-person sessions (Yuen et al., 2105). No matter the style of treatment, those with PTSD should know that quality care is available at a distance.

While these individual studies are helpful for understanding the role of telehealth for therapy, literature reviews go even further in strengthening the case for remote mental health treatment. One analysis of 14 different studies measured the benefits of telehealth (video chat or telephone) against in-person sessions (Osenbach et al., 2013). The researchers found no difference in effectiveness between the two options for conditions ranging from depression and general mental health to PTSD, OCD, and bulimia nervosa.

In another review of existing research on telehealth, authors Perle and Neirenberg found multiple studies that showed telehealth to have a positive impact on those dealing with social anxiety disorder, PTSD, and panic disorder (2013). These kinds of reviews are particularly helpful because they show that even when looking at different groups of people, each with different mental health needs, telehealth therapy is successful and stacks up evenly with in-office therapy.

While the decrease in symptoms is, of course, the most important aspect of these studies, it is not the only relevant part of the therapy experience. For example, study participants have found it just as easy to develop a connection with their therapist and had no trouble being as upfront and open as they would be in person (Perle & Neirenberg, 2013). One of the PTSD studies also found that patient satisfaction over the course of the video chat therapy experience was no different from in-person therapy (Yuen et al., 2015). So, while the telehealth process may feel unfamiliar at first, new clients shouldn’t hesitate to dive in; they will likely find that they feel just as comfortable and fulfilled as they would with in-office sessions.

As the world moves online more and more, it’s reassuring to know that mental health services won't fall short when offered at a distance. There’s no need to feel that you have to wait until you can see a therapist in-person before seeking help, and if you were already seeing a counselor, you don’t have to put the progress you made before the quarantine on hold. Telehealth is proven to help, and at Mindful Ways to Wellness, we’re online and waiting to work with you. To learn more about our approach to therapy and set up a free consultation, click here.

References Cited:

Battaglia, C., Peterson, J., Whitfield, E., Min, S.-J., Benson, S. L., Maddox, T. M., & Prochazka, A. V. (2016). Integrating Motivational Interviewing Into a Home Telehealth Program for Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Who Smoke: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 72(3), 194–206. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22252

Choi, N. G., Marti, C. N., Bruce, M. L., Hegel, M. T., Wilson, N. L., & Kunik, M. E. (2014). Six-Month Postintervention Depression And Disability Outcomes Of In-Home Telehealth Problem-Solving Therapy For Depressed, Low-Income Homebound Older Adults. Depression and Anxiety, 31(8), 653–661. doi: 10.1002/da.22242

Osenbach, J. E., Obrien, K. M., Mishkind, M., & Smolenski, D. J. (2013). Synchronous Telehealth Technologies In Psychotherapy For Depression: A Meta-Analysis. Depression and Anxiety, 30(11), 1058–1067. doi: 10.1002/da.22165

Perle, J. G., & Nierenberg, B. (2013). How Psychological Telehealth Can Alleviate Societys Mental Health Burden: A Literature Review. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 31(1), 22–41. doi: 10.1080/15228835.2012.760332

Yuen, E. K., Gros, D. F., Price, M., Zeigler, S., Tuerk, P. W., Foa, E. B., & Acierno, R. (2015). Randomized Controlled Trial of Home-Based Telehealth Versus In-Person Prolonged Exposure for Combat-Related PTSD in Veterans: Preliminary Results. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 71(6), 500–512. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22168


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