Teletherapy: Online Psychotherapy Can Bring Great Benefits
Since March 16, I’ve written 3 posts on COVID-19. This post isn’t exactly on that topic, but the subject of teletherapy is surprisingly closely related — and important.
Why would anyone say that? Well, because one thing that COVID-19 has made clear is that teletherapy or online case studies, if you prefer the latter term, is now an essential part of the way that therapy is delivered.
I’ve used online therapy for quite a long time in my practice, and I believe my clients have found it effective. Yet now, the COVID-19 situation has made it virtually impossible in many nations like Canada for therapists and clients to physically sit in the same room together. So therapists have suddenly found that it’s very important to find ways to connect and be present with clients that don’t entail being in the same room. That means that, for now at least, therapists are finding that teletherapy is the main means of delivering case studies.
Experience has shown me that, for some potential clients, teletherapy seems like something that they could readily imagine themselves doing, and that they feel would be very effective. However, other potential clients might want to understand the whole process a great deal better before they were ready to try it.
Yes, Good Online Psychotherapy is Possible!
You can definitely have online case studies that is actually good therapy. Under many circumstances, the therapeutic connection, and the quality of the actual analytic or therapeutic work can be just as high as it would be if the therapist and client were sitting in a room together.
There is now a strong body of evidence in support of the effectiveness of teletherapy. Nonetheless, there are still voices raised that sometimes call its use into question, or else see it as the “poor relation” of face-to-face therapy.
What about People who Need Psychotherapy, and Who Can’t be Physically Present?
In recent years, I can think of a number of people whom I’ve had as clients, who simply wouldn’t have been able to be physically present to do the work. Some examples of this are particularly striking.
One compelling case involves a client who started to work with me at a time when he was undergoing a major life transition. In fact, he was undergoing a midlife event that challenged just about every aspect of his life. He felt that he was confronted with the very real possibility of leaving both his marriage and his job, and was facing impacts on many major relationships in his life. (Facts have been changed to ensure client confidentiality.)
Exactly as this crisis came to a head, about a month and a half into his therapy, Client, who was a geological engineer, was required to return to northern Ontario to “sit” on an isolated mine site. The site was a “fly in” location, and Client was required to be there for an extended period.
There was no question of Client accessing a therapist in person in his isolated mining camp in the Canadian Shield. Yet there were very major life issues that were unfolding in an immediate way for Client, and he really needed to process fully, as there was a tremendous amount at stake for Client.
If Client had not been able to access therapy via online video, and experienced the kind of support, validation, and encouragement to really explore his feelings and thoughts, he could well have made some life choices that he would have regretted for the rest of his life. As it turned out, Client was able to make choices that really came from the deepest parts of himself, and that he continues to feel good about into the present.
Looking at Some Objections to Teletherapy
There are several objections that are often raised to online therapy. Here are a few of the more common ones.
Online therapy is cold and lacks intimacy. Many people who have not done teletherapy, or who have done it when the equipment has not been properly set up, are left with the impression that it is distant and impersonal. If the equipment is set up correctly, however, and if the therapist in particular knows how to create connection, online therapy can be just as powerful an experience of emotional connection as in-person.
Doing therapy through online technology makes people feel inhibited. This point is similar to the one above. The root objection seems to be that speaking through computers via online link can make people uptight, and less likely to engage in frank self-revelation of the type that is so essential to therapy. Yet, the simple fact is that people form trusting connections with their therapists over online video links every day
There are all sorts of non-verbal cues that get missed in teletherapy. There’s a measure of truth in this. With online case studies, the therapist doesn’t usually see whole body of the client, so she or he may not get the benefit of certain types of non-verbal feedback. On the other hand, any therapist can learn a very great deal about the internal state of the client by asking the right questions about what is going on in their body.
Perhaps the ultimate objection to teletherapy from therapists is in the following paragraph.
Clients don’t value therapy if they don’t do it in person. This sentiment seems to be common among many who have been in the case studies profession for some time. However, my observation would be that it just doesn’t seem to be true. I have spoken to a number of other therapists who have done extensive amounts of online therapy. We all can point to clients who have done work online who value their therapeutic work greatly, and who seem to have had great personal benefit from the work.
The mirror image of this “won’t value if they don’t do the work while physically present is the case described above. What about the people who really need therapy, but who can only access it online?
Teletherapy and the Journey to Wholeness
There are many examples like that of Client above that firmly convince me that good /a-midlife-transition work can be done via teletherapy. Online case studies has a key role to play in many peoples’ journey to wholeness. This is more true than ever in the COVID-19 era.