Smartphone apps and chatbots are making waves in the therapy scene, but it’s another technology that might actually bring mental health treatment back to a human-to-human interaction.
“Teletherapy, or delivering sessions by a video-enabled interface, is probably the most important tech development for mental health,” said Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Duckworth told Healthline that as society becomes more evolved about the role of mental healthcare in overall care, the greater the demand will be on therapists and psychiatrists.
However, the number of these providers isn’t growing to meet the demand of patients.
“The core problem with mental health is that the demand exceeds the supply. So the question is, how does technology work to deliver people those same services?” Duckworth said.
In almost every way, teletherapy is the same as traditional therapy.
You still sit face-to-face with a practitioner, and the two of you talk.
But instead of a couch and chair, you’re using Skype and FaceTime or another videoconferencing service.
The benefit of this web-based experience is that no one has to travel anywhere, and you can have a session from wherever you are, whenever you’re able.
“The no-show rates are lower. You might be able to have people on the East Coast seeing people on the West Coast at different times of the day,” Duckworth said. “You’re providing the same service, in a more efficient way.”
However, Duckworth said, the uptake for teletherapy is slow right now, but he believes it will quickly speed up as people become more familiar with the benefits, and as insurance companies begin paying for it.
“I think this is a cultural evolution and I think it’s going to take some time,” he said.
One of the biggest obstacle to teletherapy in the past has been a licensing issue between states. Normally, a state requires a practitioner to be licensed in the state in which their patient is being treated.
Obviously, such a requirement was a great burden to practitioners working with individuals in another state.
With the proliferation of telehealth in general many states have signed on to a compact recognizing the licenses of other states in the compact. As a result, the possibilities for mental health practitioners to work as teletherapists are growing.