For some time, experts thought that psychotherapy would go virtual. Now in the time of COVID-19, that shift has happened, and the benefits may be even greater than we initially thought.
The field of mental health is vast and there are many treatment modalities. Medication management is carried out by psychiatrists, physicians with a specialty in “psychotropic medication,” or medications that have effects on the brain. Psychotherapy is carried out by psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed clinical social workers (LCSW’s), or marriage and family therapists (LMFT’s). Psychotherapy can be used as a stand-alone treatment (often for mild depression or panic disorder) or in adjunct to medication.
Clients divulge some of their most trusted and personal information in sessions with therapists, and the effects can be life-transforming. Therapy aims to give clients a safe space to discuss issues and thoughts they have, and over time, a “therapeutic bond” is forged. This therapeutic bond attempts to model a healthy relationship, in the sense that the cliniclan acts as a non-judgmental, empathic listener for the client. With the advent of newer and more impressive technologies, experts have been wondering for a long time if psychotherapy in particular could be done virtually. Can clients and physicians meet in a virtual space and still achieve the same results as in-office visits?
In this NY Times article, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health landscape are highlighted. In the first two months of the pandemic, the V.A. Health System reported a “more than sevenfold [jump], from 7,500 to 52,600” of virtual visits between providers and clients. People were honoring shelter-in-place laws but still wanted to be able to speak with clinicians, particularly during this anxiety-provoking time. Many Freudian-based clinicians feared that this jump to the virtual sphere would “weaken the therapeutic bond” that physical therapy in an office tries to build and maintain. Would therapists still be able to pick up on micro-reactions or subtle changes in tone or body language over a telehealth session? Surprisingly, studies done so far are not showing a difference between physical therapy sessions and virtual therapy sessions. The preliminary evidence is showing that people are improving just as greatly in terms of symptom reduction—it didn’t matter if they were being seen in person or if their therapy was done online. Some patients even reported preferring virtual visits due to not having to commute, not having to sit in waiting rooms, and having the familiarity of their home environment during the visits.
While these results are reassuring so far, only time will tell how telehealth and virtual psychotherapy will continue to evolve. As the pandemic plays out (and hopefully ends one day), how will the mental health sphere move forward? At the very least, we are seeing that another tool in the technological arsenal does seem to be effective for people; and as long as good care can be effectively and empathically delivered, telehealth will be here to stay. We at CalPsychiatry are able to offer virtual visits to our patients. Our clinicians will be able to conduct sessions using a secure, virtual platform and discuss symptoms, medications, and even conduct therapy sessions. Don’t let the pandemic keep you from reaching out for care and book a consultation with one of our excellent providers today.