What felt like overnight, COVID-19 created an abrupt shift in the way we communicated- not just socially, but in the way we sought groceries, the way we attended school, and above all, the way we offered mental health care. As social distancing mandates made it impossible to meet in-person, therapists turned to video therapy in order to provide and maintain their clients’ regular sessions.
Though spotlighted by the pandemic, teletherapy has been around for several decades. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, “Research on telepsychology—which includes care delivered via phone, video or both—began around 1960. It grew out of a need to treat hard-to-reach populations, for instance when a forensic psychologist assessed a person in jail and referred them to a geographically distant provider for specialized care.”
Teletherapy has been proven to be effective with several advantages. Not only does teletherapy allow for flexibility in scheduling, it provides convenience for clients who may lack transportation or have access to childcare. Likewise, the clients’ ability to choose their environment, somewhere they feel safe and comfortable, enhances their vulnerability and allows them to open up as they are not physically exposed in an office.
However, teletherapy has disadvantages that have become more evident throughout the pandemic and persist as we navigate our way out.
Occasional issues with technology- weak internet signal, devices running out of battery, screens freezing- make it challenging to hold consistently reliable, productive and meaningful sessions. Lack of physical presence creates an emotional distance and makes it hard for therapists to track non-verbal communication such as shifting emotions, facial expressions and body language. Distractions from the environment, be it a car honking outside or an email notification on the computer- create difficulties maintaining focus.
Additionally, some clients have cited difficulty adjusting to teletherapy. As stated in the American Journal of Psychiatry, “Patients who began therapy in-person and had anticipated that it would continue in that format can find the adjustment to remote therapy “weird” and discomfiting.”
Above all, video therapy is simply not enough- the physical presence of other people is an integral component of a healthy life. To be human is to be social- in-person therapy sessions emulate this experience. By asking clients to commute, sit in the waiting room, and attend their session in the same room as their therapist, we are asking clients to face a reality of life.
Transitioning away from video therapy may take time, but NKA would like to remind you that if you are vaccinated, you are safe. Our therapists will continue to offer video therapy as we understand we all operate at our own rate and comfort level. We encourage you to reach out to us with any health and safety concerns you may have.