Therapy in Quarantine? Your Teletherapy Questions, Answered
By Brooke Schwartz, LMSW
As time goes on and you settle into your new routine, you may be thinking about finding a therapist for yourself or your child. Do you have questions or feel confused about where to begin? Here are some common teletherapy questions, answered:
What is teletherapy, anyway?
Teletherapy — sometimes referred to as video therapy, virtual therapy, or e-therapy — is the online delivery of therapy services. It involves meeting with a therapist just as you would in-person, except over video (or sometimes by phone).
Why would I start teletherapy right now?
There are a few reasons that might lead you to start teletherapy:
You’ve noticed new problems emerge. Staying at home brings with it a variety of new issues. Perhaps you’re experiencing a new pattern of overeating at night or are struggling to adjust to homeschooling your children. It’s entirely normal to be experiencing problems you may never have had to deal with until now. Teletherapy will help you manage these issues, and help you get from “surviving” to “thriving.”
You’ve noticed existing problems worsen. Maybe you’ve always been an anxious person, but until now it’s felt like something you could manage on your own. Now, perhaps every day is filled with worries about what the future holds, whether your loved ones will get sick, and how you can be sure you’ve actually washed your hands long enough to get rid of the germs. The current circumstances may have exacerbated issues you were already experiencing — ones that you were potentially even managing on your own.
You have more time on your hands to address problems that linger in the background. If you’re someone with more free time on your hands, you may be looking for new ways to keep yourself busy. For those who’ve said to themselves, “Sure, I’d go to therapy if I had the time for it,” now might be the time to explore your values and morals, or tackle that pesky phobia you’d rather do without.
You’re isolated and looking for some extra support. Social distancing can be lonely, and the relationship between therapist and client is just that — a relationship. Starting therapy is a great way to build or expand your support network and reduce your sense of loneliness.
What’s the first teletherapy session like?
Just as with in-person therapy, you’ll most likely meet your therapist for the first time during what’s called an “intake session.” The purpose of this session is for your therapist to assess and understand your current symptoms (that is, what brings you to therapy), the history and triggers for those symptoms, and how they interfere, if at all, in your life. Given the current context, it’s likely that when you meet your therapist they’ll check in about how you currently spend most days, where you’re located, and who — if anyone — you’re with. By the end of the intake session, you and your therapist will discuss their treatment recommendation, including what kind of therapy you’ll be doing together and how frequently you’ll meet. You’ll also have the opportunity to ask your therapist any questions you may have.
Is teletherapy just video-chatting with my therapist?
The short answer? Sort of. The longer answer is that most therapists are using HIPAA compliant telemedicine platforms such as Zoom, doxy.me, or VSee to conduct teletherapy sessions so that your privacy is protected. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a federal law that ensures the protection of patient health information. For a variety of reasons, you and your therapist may decide to use a platform that is not HIPAA compliant, such as FaceTime. If this is the case, your therapist will explain to you the risks associated with choosing not to use a HIPAA compliant platform.
What if we have technical issues?
While undesirable, technical issues — such as having spotty WiFi, losing battery on your computer, or running into problems with the platform you use — may happen. You can help prevent technical issues on your end by checking to make sure that you’re on strong WiFi (or have access to a hotspot before you begin your session) and that your device is fully charged. When you first get started with your therapist, you’ll likely discuss a back-up plan in case you run into technical problems. The most common and reliable back-up plan is often to speak on the phone.
Are there any upsides to doing teletherapy?
Absolutely! For one, your therapist will see you in your own environment. So if you’re struggling with over-eating during quarantine, you might show your therapist how your kitchen is organized and problem-solve together how to make certain food items less accessible or tempting. For kids doing teletherapy, being on video can even strengthen their relationship with their therapist — children love showing off their rooms and favorite games. Staff therapist Carrie Covell says, “My favorite aspect of teletherapy is getting to meet people’s pets. Animal cameos even come in handy when teaching DBT skills such as Distract and Self-Soothe!”
If my in-person sessions have been covered by insurance in the past, will teletherapy services still be covered?
Many insurance companies that don't typically reimburse for telehealth therapy sessions are offering coverage during this time. Those with Medicare or Medicaid benefit from a “telehealth waiver” initiative, which allows clients to receive health services virtually. Many private insurance companies (including Aetna, Cigna, and BlueCross BlueShield) are following suit. Be sure to check with your insurance company about their updated policies regarding out-of-network reimbursement for telehealth claims. If your insurance company is denying you teletherapy coverage, you may consider filing an appeal.
How can I make the most out of my teletherapy sessions?
For one, set yourself up for your teletherapy session in a place where there are minimal distractions. This might mean going to a quiet part of your apartment or house away from others, turning your phone and computer on "do not disturb" mode, or making the video full-screen so that you’re not distracted by push notifications. If possible, choose a designated spot to use for teletherapy sessions so that you’re not trying to work out logistics (such as where to put your phone or computer) during the session. Use headphones if you’re worried about others in your home hearing your session — distance may not be possible in your environment, and using headphones will at least help prevent others from hearing your therapist speak to you.
Would I continue therapy once I go back to work (or school, etc.)?
Everyone is different! While many will want to continue with therapy in-person when the time comes, it’s possible that you don’t, particularly if you’re starting teletherapy for a problem that’s specific to being quarantined. If this is the case, and you and your therapist agree that continuing therapy isn’t necessary, you may decide together to stop. Keep in mind that the decision to stop or continue therapy doesn’t have to be one you make alone — your therapist is there to help support you in making this decision!
Teletherapy may seem daunting for those who have never been in therapy before, or even for those who are used to seeing their therapist in-person. Here's hoping these answers give you some clarity on the process.
If you’re interested in starting therapy at Behavioral Psych Studio, contact us by calling 917-497-2760 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
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