Covid 19 has created a rapidly and ever changing environment for mental health providers and clients. Many adolescents and young adults face some difficulty in accessing therapy under normal circumstances, and our current situation of sheltering in place has added many more obstacles. Teletherapy (participating in virtual sessions by phone or video) has been growing in popularity and is proving to be an effective immediate response for delivering therapy to those who need it and keeping to important safety guidelines for slowing the Covid 19 spread.

Many parents are asking: Will my teenager benefit from teletherapy or should I wait it out until we find a therapist who is back in the office? The short answer is we’re evolving, and therapists are working hard to consider the benefits and consequences of each type of choice.  Here are 5 things to consider as you search for the right kind of service for your teenager.

  1. Informed consent for teletherapy. Mental health providers should review their teletherapy policies and your rights. Essential foundations for safe and productive therapy, like maintaining confidentiality and discussing the risks and benefits of mental health treatment are standard pieces of intake paperwork clients sign when they have therapy in person, and should be provided for teletherapy, too.
  2. Therapeutic connection. This is one of the most important elements of a therapeutic relationship, and is thought to be the biggest change agent of therapy. When humans have a hard time reading each other’s body language or facial expressions, it is harder to build trust and confidence when interacting, and this is one of the things that is often muted or lost altogether in teletherapy. On the other hand, there are some people who feel more comfortable interacting virtually because it can feel more familiar and therefore easier to be honest than in a face-to-face conversation.
  3. High risk vs. low risk concerns. Right now, teletherapy is our most readily available option for all mental health needs, including assessing for crisis and intervening as needed. However, an individual who may be experiencing a medical mental health emergency may need a higher level of care like a hospital stay. In that case, teletherapy isn’t the best option, and therapists will temporarily stop virtual sessions and refer individuals, even during quarantining. After stabilizing the crisis, teletherapy may be appropriate to resume as an aftercare option.
  4. Cost.  If you want to use insurance for teletherapy, ask your therapist, as they have probably called about this issue, and plan on calling your insurance company to ask them. Most insurance companies, before Covid 19, did not have systems in place to reimburse providers for behavioral healthcare. Some insurance companies have their own staff of mental health clinicians who were available for teletherapy, so you couldn’t use your established care provider. As of the writing of this blog, many insurers are reimbursing providers for teletherapy as long as the provider adds in the correct new codes for billing. It’s anybody’s guess how insurance companies may handle paying for virtual sessions when restrictions for gathering have been eased, so it’s always, always a good idea to call beforehand.
  5. Technical difficulties.  Most certainly therapists and clients do not have to wrangle with technical glitches, frozen screens, or crashed digital platforms with in person sessions. Clients and therapists alike are stymied by the new level of tech expertise that seems to be required learning for a virtual session. As we know, technical disruptions are really common, and if you don’t have a strong WiFi connection or LTE signal, it’s best to have a phone session or reschedule. Talk with your therapist about a backup plan in case the session gets disconnected or interrupted.

I’m providing teletherapy for teens and I’m also working with my clients and office mates to navigate a safe and healthy return to in-office appointments. Each therapist and client has many different needs, and an attentive conversation to determine what kind of therapy works best for everyone is essential. I am so grateful for my community, and witnessing the great care and sensitivity all have used as we weather these transitions.