The rapid advancement of technology over the past 10 years has drastically changed the way we do many things. Traditional psychotherapy has also benefited from these advancements and the onset of a worldwide pandemic has accelerated the use of this technology in in this realm. Gone are the days where a patient had to come to an in-person office visit. While we certainly miss seeing people in person, there are several advantages of doing therapy virtually as opposed to in the office. Depending on the situation, virtual or video therapy may actually be preferable option.
Top Benefits of Teletherapy:
- Lower Barrier to Entry: One of the biggest barriers for people to get into treatment is the first session. It’s long been known, in the realm of psychotherapy, that the modal number of sessions attended by patient is one. One lonely session. There are many theories about why this is the case but one of the reasons is likely that it is somewhat daunting and/or burdensome to attend a therapy session. These fears or hesitations are greatly diminished when meeting with a therapist entails the smallest of hurdles: turning on the computer. It simply makes access to help much easier because there is almost no barrier.
- Same Outcomes as In-Office: As much as we used to say, without evidence, that in-person therapy is superior to therapy done over the telephone or virtually, it’s just not true. Recent research (1, 2, 3) on the topic, completed even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has demonstrated that teletherapy or virtual video therapy is as effective as therapy done in a therapists office. This came as a surprise to us initially but when you think about it, being in a persons home, even virtually, can really be beneficial, especially for exposure therapy because there are so many triggers that “live” in the home.
- Efficiency: The fact that teletherapy is more efficient is a no-brainer. Time, as it is often said, is our most precious resource and teletherapy makes the best use of time for both the therapist and the patient. There is no travel time. No time wasted on finding parking. No traffic jams to worry about. It’s just a matter of opening up your computer and logging on.
- Privacy: Not having to go to the office and sit in a waiting room where you might see someone you know is a distinct privacy advantage over in-office sessions.
- Illness: This is especially relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic but it’s also an advantage in normal times. When either the therapist or the patient is sick with a cold or the flu, it’s obviously not a good idea to be around each other. Teletherapy sessions have a unique advantage as viruses cannot be spread through a computer. Well, of course they can but not the kind of viruses we’re talking about here. You know what we mean.
- Better Exposures: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) lives in the home. So does hoarding. And skin picking. And hair pulling. So many of the things that are feared or avoided by people with anxiety or OCD have their origins in the home. So it makes sense to do the actual therapy there! Beaming into people’s homes have allowed us to deliver a much more meaningful and effective Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) experience for our patients. If a person has germ phobia, we can go right over to their toilet for an exposure. Same thing with turning the stove on and off. Being in the natural environment is much more effective.
- Safety: Rain, snow, sleet, hail! When doing therapy in the home the patient can avoid having to trudge however many miles it is to the therapists office in all types of weather. Driving also has it’s own safety risks so keeping off the roads is generally a preferable way to go.
- Flexibility: This goes both ways as it is convenient for the patient and also the therapist. It allows for the patient to more easily fit therapy into their busy lives. Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents have to balance childcare, educating their children, as well other multitudes of taking care of their busy homes. ERP for OCD typically requires twice a week sessions so being able to fit in therapy around other obligations without having to travel to an office is a big advantage of teletherapy.
- Timeliness: It’s rare for a person to be late to a teletherapy appointment because all that they have to do is log on and click “Join Meeting.” In the past, we have had several times where a patient would be late to our physical office because they could not find parking, ran into traffic, had delays getting out of their house, or several other reasons over the years. Teletherapy allows sessions to begin and end on time with a much higher frequency than in-office visits.
- Access for Remote Patients: Living and working in Pittsburgh, a moderate sized city in terms of population, has afforded us the ability to open up a practice with access to a good number of people who are physically close enough to come into the offices. But physical location should not be the defining factor that determines if a person can receive good psychological services. Teletherapy has created the opportunity for us to reach a much broader range of rural population that could have never been achieved before this technology was available. Location is no longer a determining factor and that is a very good thing.
- Access for Disabled Patients: Teletherapy and other telemedicine services have been tremendously helpful for those who have disabilities that prevent them from making it to a traditional office setting. Although the Americans With Disabilities Act has made many strides with providing accommodations so that persons with disabilities can have equal access to services, telehealth is often a much easier and more desirable option for those who have difficulty getting around. Many of these patients would not be able to receive therapy if teletherapy was not an option.
- Opportunity for Family or Couples to Join Sessions: Being “in” patient’s homes via virtual therapy makes family inclusion much more seamless. When young adults still live at home, parents can easily join. And for our child patients, parents can sit in the sessions or easily be called in to join for part or all of the session. This is the same for couples or family therapy.
All of our therapists at OCD Spectrum are very comfortable using this technology to treat our patients. Teletherapy allows us to offer our range of services across all of Pennsylvania. So if you’re struggling with OCD in Scranton, having panic attacks in Philadelphia, or emetophobia in Erie we have specialists ready to help you get the coping skills you need to get your life back.