What is Teletherapy?

By: Natalie Rice-Thorp, Ph.D. | April 10, 2020

Telemedicine, telepsychology, telehealth, videoconferencing psychotherapy, and teletherapy name the psychological services delivered by electronic means. In teletherapy, the therapist sits in one location, the client in another. A client at home, for example, can confer with a therapist at the clinic. The two have their psychotherapy session together via secure internet technology that allows for audio and visual connection in real time. Providers may also use phone calls or other electronic communication.

As good as in person?

Telepsychology services serve the same purpose as traditional in-person therapy including consultation and treatment. They use many of the same approaches and interventions as in-person methods. Research indicates that videoconferencing psychotherapy proves feasible in a variety of therapeutic formats, serves diverse populations, and delivers good client satisfaction. Clinical results compare favorably with traditional face-to-face psychotherapy.*

More good for everyone?

Telepsychology improved the access to psychotherapeutic services for populations such as rural and military communities. Telemedicine expanded in recent years across settings including primary care, hospitals, clinics, and private practice services. In the current Covid-19 pandemic, offices increasingly turn to telemedicine to continue serving their clients while slowing the spread of the virus as individuals for the good of all.

What if I’m not technically savvy?

People may worry about their technical ability to utilize telepsychology. I had that same worry years ago when I first started to use videoconferencing to service my psychotherapy clients at a Veterans Administration clinic. Those of us piloting the program joked that if we could learn to do it, anyone could! Most of us psychologists had not used FaceTime or Skype in our personal lives, nor did we consider ourselves as technology geeks by any stretch of the imagination! In a short time, we grew to love “tele” even in its clunkiest early forms. Today, the software options for civilian use operate in user friendly ways without much ‘clunk,’ if any at all. Providers can guide their clients through the process using the telephone if needed.

How does it happen?

A typical teletherapy session occurs like this:

    • Shortly before the appointment, the client receives an email with a link for the psychotherapy session.
    • The client clicks on the link.
    • The link connects the client with the provider allowing them both to see and hear each other on their computer screens.

The process occurs more easily than driving to an office and finding parking!

Give it a try?

In this time of stay-at-home orders and Covid-19, teletherapy offers a convenient, safer alternative than leaving home to go to a provider’s office for a psychotherapy session. Ask your provider about online therapy options. Try it! You’ll like it!



Image: David Stewart on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

*Backhaus, A., Agha, Z., Maglione, M. L., Repp, A., Ross, B., Zuest, D., Rice-Thorp, N. M., Lohr, J., & Thorp, S. R. (2012). Videoconferencing psychotherapy: A systematic review. Psychological Services, 9(2), 111–131.

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