Tele-therapy collaged images

Stephanie Parsons specializes in child therapy; Christi Lero specializes in grief, illness and loss; and Tara Vossenkemper is a couples therapist and marriage counselor. 

According to a Pew Research Center study published in May, one-third of Americans have experienced high levels of psychological distress during quarantine. Stephanie Parsons, a co-owner and therapist at Counseling Associates in Columbia, says therapy is more accessible than ever, and according to the American Psychological Institute, it is equivalent to in-person therapy in many situations. Vox talked to Parsons, Christi Lero, a Columbia-based therapist at Aspire Counseling, and Tara Vossenkemper, owner, clinical director and therapist at The Counseling Hub to answer common questions about the remote practice.

What are the benefits of tele-therapy?

Online or phone therapy sessions allow more flexibility for the client, Lero and Parsons say. Some clients might find it difficult to leave work or home for an appointment, and at-home sessions are more convenient. Telehealth can also work well for clients with high anxiety. “We’ve had a couple of clients who feel more comfortable initiating therapy for the first time because it’s not in person,” Parsons says. “This gives them the opportunity to get therapy and do the process at their own pace.”

Are there downsides to remote therapy?

Virtual therapy is not for everyone, and some clients benefit more from face-to-face care. Vossenkemper says when you don’t meet in person, you can miss out on nonverbal cues. She adds that it can be difficult for therapy at home to feel truly private for patients who might want to talk about domestic conflicts or abuse. Lero says technology and internet difficulties can also present problems.

What software is used for telehealth?

All three practices use a HIPAA-compliant telehealth service. In other words, these telehealth services aren’t using Zoom but rather an extra-secure software “to try to ensure privacy and confidentiality,” Vossenkemper says. The Counseling Hub uses Spruce, which offers secure phone calls, video sessions and the ability for a client to directly text a provider. Other popular options are Doxy.me and TheraNest.

Is remote therapy possible for kids?

Parsons says all therapy is generally more difficult with younger children than it is with adults, but it’s still possible to hold effective remote therapy sessions with kids. “It’s been a neat way to teach people, especially our kids, to be resilient and be creative with how you manage things,” Parsons says. She has played card games over video with some of her younger clients.

Is remote therapy more expensive than in-person sessions?

All three practices price online sessions at the same rate as in-person sessions. Parsons says rates might differ depending on what insurance you have and what pay model a therapy practice uses. It’s important to know what your insurance plan covers. Parsons says she has noticed many insurance companies offering more coverage for telehealth since the start of the pandemic.

Was remote therapy an option before COVID-19?

Lero says telehealth was an option at Aspire Counseling but was almost never used by therapists prior to the pandemic. Counseling Associates offered telehealth over the past year or so to make counseling more accessible for people outside of Columbia or students unable to leave campus. The Counseling Hub only used telehealth in the past if a client specifically requested it.

Will remote therapy be an option after COVID-19 subsides?

Definitely. All three therapists say they will continue to offer telehealth after COVID-19 because of its accessibility. “I want to make sure people always have that option to do it online,” Vossenkemper says.

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