When you picture psychotherapy, what comes to mind? You might picture you and/or your child being beckoned through the door to your therapist’s office. The therapist sits down on a comfortable chair perpendicular to you. You and/or your child settle in on a comfortable couch. Perhaps, if you’re doing cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), you and/or your child usually look onto handouts with your therapist. Or, if you’re doing parent child interaction therapy (PCIT), your child may be presented with several game options set up on the floor that they can explore to warm up to the session. There is also something comforting on an emotional level about being in the same room as your child’s therapist.
During the coronavirus pandemic, we have had to readjust our expectations for many of our typically in-person routines. Just like you’ve had to adjust to virtual schooling, the large majority of outpatient psychological services are switching to telehealth platforms to adhere to social distancing and/or shelter in place recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control. Below you’ll find the answers to many questions and concerns about receiving psychotherapy via telehealth.
Question: Are therapy services delivered via telehealth as effective as those delivered in person?
Answer: Yes! Many clinical trials have found that therapy delivered via telehealth is just as effective (or in some cases more effective) at reducing symptoms than in-person services.
Question: Will my child feel connected to a therapist they only see via the internet?
Answer: Yes! Studies have found that therapeutic alliance ratings (i.e., how much your child trusts and likes their therapist) are similar between in-person and telehealth treatment modalities.
Question: How will you keep my child engaged without being in person?
Answer: Kids are used to doing a variety of things online, whether it be virtual gaming, FaceTime with friends, and now even virtual schooling. Thus, in some ways, telehealth might be more of an adjustment for you than your child. We also find that children find some aspects of telehealth exciting, such as getting to draw on forms the therapist is sharing via their screen, playing virtual games back and forth, picking a virtual background, getting to show the therapist something at home that they cherish (e.g., their favorite stuffed animal), showing the therapist a funny YouTube video, or meeting the therapist’s pet.
Question: Are there any benefits of telehealth over in-person services?
Answer: Yes! First, you can do telehealth from the comfort of your own home, which might make your child feel more at ease. Second, you can save money without needing to commute or pay for parking. Third, you can save time by cutting out the burden of driving to the clinic and waiting in the waiting room. Fourth, it can help the environment because rather than printing forms, we share them via a “screen share” function or email. Fifth, it may lead to better generalization of therapy skills if the skills are learned in the actual environment that strong emotions come up.
Question: What are some risks of doing therapy via telehealth?
Answer: As with any form of communication via the internet (e.g., email) there are some risks to confidentiality when receiving services via telehealth. However, you will be sent a unique link for the session that no one else can use and we will not video-record your session without your permission.
Question: How should I prepare for my first telehealth session?
- Make sure you have the link your therapist sent you to access the session.
- If you have a computer with a webcam, make sure your computer is on and connected to WiFi a few minutes before the session. If you don’t have this set up, a smartphone will also work just fine.
- Decide on a private, quiet place you will do the session, and give other family members a heads up not to interrupt you during this time. If it is difficult to find a quiet space, headphones can be helpful.
- If your therapist provided you with a written workbook or emailed handouts in advance, have those available.