Online Therapy Growing Area of Telemedicine Services

Technology is a part of nearly everyone’s life today. About three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone and almost seven in 10 use social media, according to the Pew Research Center. As we become more accustomed to doing everything online from the comfort of our homes, it’s only natural that the same technology would play a role in our health care.

Telemedicine or telehealth services involve health care provided remotely through technology such as a phone or online connection. It’s becoming more common in all areas of medical care and increasingly in mental health services and counseling.

Health insurance plans offer varying degrees of coverage for telemedicine services, but insurers commonly cover diagnostic intake, psychotherapy sessions, smoking cessation, and alcohol inpatient aftercare.

Being able to access counseling services from the comfort of your own couch can be as effective as traditional therapy for many people, according to recent studies and the American Telemedicine Association. In a YouTube interview, ATA President Peter Yellowlees pointed out that telemedicine patients don’t have to travel far from home or miss work for their appointments, and patients who might think there is a stigma attached to mental health care can avoid the stress of worrying someone might see them heading to a therapist. Also, some telemed patients who have been traumatized feel less threatened when they can interact remotely, Yellowlees said.

Online therapy also can bring help to those who can’t reach it. Roughly one in every five Americans suffers from mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health but nearly 103 million Americans live in an area designated as having a shortage of mental health professionals, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Telemedicine is starting to fill in the gap.

Walgreens joined with Mental Health America and MDLive to create Walgreens.com/mentalhealth to provide access to more than 1,000 mental health providers. Consultations start at $60, and the video chat service can be used from anywhere. Other online platforms, such as Breakthrough and Talkspace, similarly let you sign up for virtual counseling via phone or web chat.

You can also have a video call with a therapist starting at $99 without insurance.

In a Business Insider story, a Talkspace therapist said clients have disclosed information via the service that they would never disclose face to face. Experts say online interactions make people feel more anonymous and more likely to share honestly instead of spending time trying to “look good” for their therapist.

A continued shortage of mental health professionals and the public’s growing ease with technology both point to therapy continuing to evolve into a mix of in-person and online interactions.