Big life change brought on by COVID-19 has forced the world to reinvent methods of delivering essential services. Despite everyone feeling like the world has come to a halt, mental health concerns are not something that can be placed on hold, especially when the pandemic has had a major negative impact on mental health. Many therapists, therefore, have adapted the way they provide their services by offering teletherapy—also known as telemental health, telehealth, and online therapy—allowing them to meet with clients remotely. It’s no secret that students have been majorly impacted mentally and emotionally by COVID-19. If you’re a student who’s considering teletherapy services, here’s what you should know.
What exactly is telemental health?
You may wonder what exactly telemental health is, especially if you haven’t sought mental health aid over the course of the pandemic—and maybe you wanted to but just never took the next step. Telemental health is a new way for therapists to communicate with their clients from a distance—whether this involves online platforms like a highly secured version of Zoom (or other HIPAA-compliant platforms), phones calls, or text messaging. Once signed up with a therapist, students can access that therapist at the click of a hyperlink provided at the designated appointment time, most often via online video platforms. This gives students the ability to sit back and relax while working through concerns with their therapists in the comfort of their own dorm rooms or homes.
An emerging kind of health care
You may think telemental health is unusual compared to traditional in-person therapy services that are often portrayed on TV or experiences your friends may have told you about. However, research has shown telemental health to be an effective way to deliver therapy services for a variety of mental health concerns, including disorders that require specialized treatments like PTSD. Prior to starting treatment, your therapist will be able to determine whether you’re eligible for remote mental health services, which depends on what concerns you’re seeking therapy for.
The benefits of teletherapy
You may feel reluctant to give teletherapy a try because it’s such a new concept. However, studies show that clients are less likely to cancel their mental health–related appointments due to the extra benefits of telehealth. According to a study by PubMed, “Over an 18-month period, there were 7,523 telepsychiatry appointments and 115,148 conventional (face-to-face) appointments. A higher proportion of the telepsychiatry appointments was kept (92% telepsychiatry vs. 87% non-telepsychiatry). Also, telepsychiatry appointments were significantly less likely to be cancelled by patients (3.5% vs. 4.8%) and significantly less likely to be no-shows (4.2% vs. 7.8%).”
Accessibility, cost, and specialized treatments
Mental health services may be more easily accessible to you due to elimination of certain barriers like travel and the higher cost of in-person visits. Since you don’t have to travel to a telehealth appointment, you can save time and money on the commute and get right to working on your goals with your therapist. Some insurance companies are even waiving copayments during the COVID-19 state of emergency, therefore providing free access to treatment for those who need it. What’s more, students who may be seeking a certain modality of treatment—such as specific interventions like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy—are able to access therapists who specialize in these interventions who don’t necessarily need to be local.
The downsides to teletherapy
While clearly convenient, there are some drawbacks to teletherapy services you may want to consider.
In-state only therapists
Many states will only allow therapists to treat clients who are in the state the therapist is licensed in. If you attend college out of state and live at home during summer break, you may not have access to sessions with your specific counselor during that period of time. This shouldn’t deter you from seeking services, however, as your therapist would likely help you find the services you need during summer months.
Potentially less privacy
Teletherapy services come with the risk of your privacy being unintentionally impeded upon. One major reason why many people seek therapy services is because it provides a confidential safe zone with the therapist. Teletherapy services run the risk of your conversations being overheard by family members or roommates, especially if you live in a dorm. However, this shouldn’t stop you from seeking the services you need either. Your therapist can help you problem-solve this situation, such as exploring alternate video or phone call locations like your car or a reserved private campus library room.
Difficulties with non-verbal cues
While your therapist will work to meet your needs, teletherapy services also run the risk of missing certain conversational and physical cues, as the full scope of your body language or facial expressions may not be seen on screen or over the phone. Please note: Your therapist will also likely ask you where you’re located at the beginning of each session to ensure that emergency services can be arranged in case of a mental health emergency.
Teletherapy resources and COVID-19
If you’re considering seeking teletherapy services, finding a therapist during COVID-19 may be initially difficult due to the increase in mental health needs. Start by contacting your on-campus counseling center to determine if they’re able to provide an intake and a list of referrals for longer-term therapists. Many college counseling centers offer short-term therapy services in which your counselor will meet with you for a few sessions before referring you to a long-term therapist if your concerns need further assistance. If you’d like to try additional resources, is a great website that allows you to browse therapists according to your preferences and needs, including insurance type and specializations for certain presenting concerns, among other things.
Reaching out to a potential therapist may feel overwhelming at first, but connecting with someone and presenting your needs will allow a potential therapist to determine whether they’re able to help you or can refer you to a therapist with the specializations who can. Your school may also provide you access to a resource called ThrivingCampus, an online database of therapists who offer their services to college students. ThrivingCampus is similar to Psychology Today in that it allows students to reach out to prospective therapists to get conversations started. If your school isn’t part of ThrivingCampus, requesting your college campus to arrange this could be an option.
There may be no greater time to ensure your mental health needs are being met than right now. Reaching out to a therapist is quite common, even if other students aren’t talking about it. There are many people utilizing telehealth services during the pandemic right now. And if they can do it, so can you. We hope you’ll take that first step to a better mental well-being.
Check out the tag “mental health” for more great resources like this one for mentally healthier students.