Lessons Learned From the Meteoric Rise of Teletherapy

Jose Rosado
April 29, 2021

People of a certain generation, older Millennials or sometimes Xennials as they’re also called (Generation X + Millennials), are often referred to as “The Lucky Ones.” This is in reference to how this particular group of people have been fortunate enough to experience two vastly different kinds of lives while growing up.

teletherapy session

I myself, am one of these people. I grew up during the ’80s & ’90s and experienced a childhood of playing outside all day, riding bikes around the neighborhood, and weekly trips to Blockbuster. Yet, I am also young enough to remember the rise of the digital age with social media, YouTube, and smartphones. While many of these things didn’t come about until I was in college, I was still young enough to quickly adapt to them and utilize them to their fullest potential of more than just social interaction.

At one point in my life, I was working as a portraiture photographer, which made platforms like Facebook and Instagram perfect for sharing my work and marketing myself for little to no cost. Admittedly, that’s where my expertise begins to dwindle as I never really embraced apps like Snapchat, TikTok, or Houseparty. The reasoning for sharing all the above is to set the scene for another experience in my life where I’ve been on both sides of a large societal technological shift—the distanced, digital experience of tele-everything, resulting from the spread of a global pandemic.

Before the pandemic hit, I was working as an Executive Director of a local recovery and wellness center, helping local community members who were looking for assistance with basic needs and access to peer recovery services, as well as those looking for help with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. This was done in parallel my clinical internship at a small private practice, seeing all of my clients face-to-face as part of completing my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Northwestern University, an entirely online hybrid program.

However, when the pandemic hit, forcing everyone to shelter at home, even as someone that previously worked from home for over 10 years, I struggled at times, like many others, with “Zoom-fatigue.” Soon I found myself loathing impromptu Zoom Happy Hours with friends and family after being in front of a computer for most of my day, leaving me feeling very conflicted, as I missed my family and knew that it was the only way to spend time together. For younger people, like my two teenage kids, this shift brought on little more than a shrug, as socially distanced interaction has been such a major part of their lives since they were old enough to remember.

I share all that to say that as someone who has had one foot in both the digital and in-person world for most of my life, I feel as though I can provide a balanced viewpoint on both sides of the coin when it comes to teletherapy. Although teletherapy has been around for years, both via online therapy providers and individual therapists offering their clients remote sessions, we now know more about the pros and cons than even before, with data showing that only 1.9% of therapists were not engaging in teletherapy at all since the start of Covid-19, compared with 63.6% prior.[1] Below, I’ve outlined by perspective on the matter for both clients and therapists.

Advantages of Teletherapy

Clients: 

  • Easier access to care for people in rural areas
  • For some, taking out the face-to-face element allows for speaking more freely
  • Easier to schedule and keep appointments around everyone’s busy calendars, as there is no need to get into a car and drive to a specific brick and mortar location
  • Better accessibility for those with physical impairments that make leaving their home difficult

Clinicians:

  • Easier time taking notes with less distraction for clients
  • Ability to look things up and quickly do research on the fly
  • Fewer cancellations and rescheduling by clients
  • Ability to see more clients in a given day due to not having to turn over the space, walk clients out, wait for clients stuck in traffic, etc.
  • For those who have or contemplated a physical office space, this allowed many to keep costs and overhead lower for their practice, mitigating potential financial liabilities and increasing profits

Disadvantages of Teletherapy

Clients: 

  • People that do not have regular access to technology cannot participate with consistency
  • For some, it may be difficult to connect with a therapist they have not met in-person
  • Difficulty finding a quiet, private area for sessions to create a safe space to speak openly
  • For those who work from home, making another part of their life attached to a screen may lead to even more “Zoom-fatigue”

Clinicians:

  • More difficult to manage work/life balance; i.e. depleting nature of always being “on”
  • At times, limits the ability to note the client’s nonverbal communication as well as overall appearance
  • Issues that commonly accompany constant screen-time (e.g. eye strain and fatigue, neck/shoulders/back soreness/stiffness, other health issues resulting from the sedentary work environment)

As I reflect on my own journey, I find myself feeling very grateful for having one foot in each world. Many young clinicians practicing teletherapy find themselves struggling with not having the face-to-face element of many traditional practices. Even seasoned clinicians, who after years of seeing clients in-person, encounter challenges in seeing clients remotely. Some experience anxiety from exposing their technological limitations to their clients. In addition, some therapists reportedly feel insecure about their ability to competently provide treatment.[2]

In closing, life returns back to normal, I believe it’s fair to say that teletherapy is here to stay. For some clinicians, they will be excited to get back into the office and return to seeing clients in-person, while others have found the flexibility of teletherapy to be freeing, happy to let go of long-term commercial leases on office space. No matter the route anyone chooses, the silver lining out of all of this is the greater access to care for so many people who have a therapist or who are looking to start therapy—something we all can agree is a great thing.


References

  1. Brenda K. Wiederhold. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Oct 2020.655-656.http://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2020.29196.editorial
  2. Ronen-Setter, I.H., Cohen, E. Becoming “Teletherapeutic”: Harnessing Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) for Challenges of the Covid-19 EraJ Contemp Psychother 50265–273 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10879-020-09462-8
Jose Rosado

Jose Rosado is an advocate for mental health and addiction. He is a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor and Peer Recovery Specialist. He works with adults, young adults, couples, and families both clinically and within the community. His core experience lies in facilitating clinical services in both community services and nonprofit settings. He also works with families of incarcerated individuals and those reentering their community after incarceration.