Understanding Teletherapy: What is It and How Does It Work?

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Tuesday, February 6

Going through therapy can help you learn helpful coping strategies, build important skills, and ease symptoms of mental health conditions. But it’s not always easy (or possible) to attend therapy sessions in person. 

You might not have therapists nearby — or therapists with experience treating mental health concerns similar to yours. Or you might not be able to get to and from your sessions. 

Teletherapy provides a convenient way to access this kind of care. You can meet with a therapist without leaving your home and can arrange therapy sessions that work with your schedule.

Below, we’ll explore teletherapy in detail, including how it works, its benefits, and a few challenges. 

What is teletherapy?

Teletherapy is performed remotely rather than in person. This type of therapy uses different technological tools that allow clients to communicate with therapists from the comfort of their own homes. 

Teletherapy can address many different therapeutic needs (individual, couples, family, etc.) and can occur through several formats, including phone calls,  videoconferencing, email, or instant messaging. 

Benefits of teletherapy

Teletherapy provides some notable advantages that may make it easier for you to get the care you need. In the following sections, we’ll discuss a few of the most significant benefits of teletherapy to help you understand your options.

Greater flexibility and convenience 

In-person therapy has certain limits that may make it hard to set up and attend therapy sessions. You may not live close to a therapist, or your schedule might make it difficult to set up sessions during a local therapist’s regular office hours. You might have physical limitations or disabilities that prevent you from attending in-person therapy.

Teletherapy offers more flexibility and convenience in terms of location and time. You can receive mental health treatment from anywhere at a time that best suits you. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you may need to work within certain parameters for teletherapy — like choosing a therapist who works in (or is licensed in) your state due to licensing laws and regulations.

Increased access to care 

Mental health services offer crucial care for many people. But not everyone has access to these important services. If you live in a remote area or an underserved community, you might not have access to a local therapist. Or, your therapeutic needs may not align with the services available in your area. 

Teletherapy expands access to mental health resources so you can find a therapist who fits your unique needs. This increased access to therapy services helps ensure that you can get the right care. As long as you have a phone or a computer, laptop, or tablet with internet access, you can start working with a licensed therapist. 

Improved timeliness and continuity of care 

Therapy can be an ongoing process to achieve your mental health goals. If you’re seeking help for complex issues or a severe mental health condition, receiving timely care is essential. 

Continuity of care is also important for therapy to be effective. This can be a challenge with in-person therapy, as clinics might have limited services or few available appointments. Teletherapy enhances timeliness and continuity of care, ensuring that you can receive consistent support and faster response times. 

No travel fees and less time off of work

When you do in-person therapy, you may have to take time off from work to attend sessions during a therapist’s regular office hours. Not everyone has paid time off to use for such appointments, so the lost time may be reflected in lower paychecks. You may also have to cover expenses related to traveling to and from your therapist’s office, like gas or public transportation. 

With teletherapy, you don’t have to worry about travel-related expenses or missing work. You can do these sessions from home during times that are convenient for you. 

Teletherapy sessions may cost less than traditional therapy. Providers who offer teletherapy might be able to offer lower fees for their services due to lower overhead costs. For example, they might not have a physical office or clinic to maintain. 

Keep in mind that many health insurance plans cover teletherapy, which can also reduce the amount you pay for your sessions. 

How does teletherapy work?

How different is teletherapy from traditional therapy? What can you expect when you do teletherapy sessions over the phone or online? In the following sections, we’ll help you better understand how this kind of therapy works. 

Choosing a telehealth platform

Your first step is finding the right teletherapy platform. This involves considering several factors, like HIPAA and privacy compliance, therapist availability, and user-friendliness. You want to make sure that you’ll be comfortable interacting with your therapist over the phone or in a digital setting. Again, keep in mind that you may need to look for a therapist located in the same state as you.

SonderMind connects you with the right therapist at the right time, making it easy to find the support you need on your timeline. 

Scheduling an appointment 

Worried about playing phone tag or being kept on hold just to book an appointment? Teletherapy offers an easy and flexible way to schedule your sessions. You can use an online booking system to set up appointments; just choose a time and date that works for you within your therapist’s availability windows and complete the booking process. 

Initial consult

Your first teletherapy appointment is an initial consult. During this appointment, your therapist will assess your needs, which may involve asking you for information about your symptoms (if applicable), current challenges and concerns, medical history, and other relevant details. 

This initial consult also gives you and your therapist the opportunity to establish a therapeutic rapport. Having a good relationship with your therapist is important, as strong therapist-client relationships have been linked to improved therapy outcomes. 

Establishing a rapport might be easier if your teletherapy is done via videoconferencing or over the phone rather than via apps, email, or chats. These types of teletherapy allow you to interact with your therapist in real time, while hearing their voice and seeing their face. 

Regular sessions 

Once you establish a cadence of regular teletherapy sessions, they work much like in-person sessions. Your therapist will work with you to develop therapeutic goals and treatments to help you achieve them. During your sessions, you might explore your issues or concerns in depth and reflect on your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Your therapist might recommend behavioral changes, or work closely with you to help you develop more adaptive coping strategies. 

These therapy sessions provide you with consistent, personalized treatment plans. You and your therapist will discuss your progress as you go through sessions, and may make adjustments to your treatment as needed. 

Privacy and security 

Doing therapy sessions online or over the phone might make you worry about your privacy or security. Is your personal information secure? Is it safe to talk about deeply personal experiences with a therapist on the phone or online? 

Teletherapy platforms take multiple steps to protect your data and ensure confidentiality. As part of these measures, you may be asked to log in from a private network or keep your device locked so others can’t see your sessions. Your teletherapy platform should provide encrypted service to help ensure privacy and security. 

How effective is teletherapy compared to in-person therapy?

The use of telemedicine, including teletherapy, has increased over the past few years, mainly due to the social distancing concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic. With health insurance companies including coverage for teletherapy sessions, it’s become more accessible to more people. 

But how does it compare to in-person therapy? A Journal of Psychiatric Research study of individuals who have used this treatment for depression and other conditions finds that teletherapy is just as effective as traditional therapy.

Many therapists agree with this. Teletherapy or telepsychiatry gives them a more flexible way to offer care to clients and increase accessibility. With slight adjustments, like ensuring digital security, therapists can provide the same quality of care online or over the phone as they do in person. 

Challenges of teletherapy 

Despite the many benefits of teletherapy, it may come with a few challenges. Many therapists who offer this service take measures to address these potential difficulties to help ensure safe and effective care for clients. Below, we’ll review a few common challenges you might encounter if you’re considering teletherapy.

Maintaining compliance and privacy

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), providers are required to keep patient or client information secure and confidential. For teletherapy providers, being HIPAA-compliant involves a few extra steps. They need to keep data and communications secure in digital therapy settings. This typically involves using encryption and taking other measures to protect against cybersecurity threats. 

Staying compliant and adhering to legal standards might also affect who they provide teletherapy services to. In most states, mental health professionals need to be licensed in the state their clients are located. 

Lack of non-verbal cues 

Body language and other non-verbal cues are an important part of communication between therapists and clients. When you do teletherapy on the phone or via email, you won’t have a way to read these cues from your therapist — and vice versa. This may make it more difficult to build a rapport. 

Using face-to-face videoconferencing is one way to prevent this problem. You can see facial expressions and other kinds of body language with this type of interactive teletherapy. 

Technical issues 

Since teletherapy involves technology, there’s always a chance of technical issues. These problems can cause delays in getting a session started. Or they might cause frequent glitches or other problems that prevent sessions from running smoothly. For example, you or your therapist might encounter connectivity issues, or the platform might not perform reliably due to tech issues. 

Having ways to handle technical problems promptly can help prevent them from disrupting online therapy sessions. For example, make sure you have a backup device handy or use your hotspot if your internet connection goes down. 

Fulfill all aspects of your teletherapy needs with SonderMind 

Teletherapy can help you receive timely and consistent care. The benefits it offers — and its effectiveness — make it a great option for mental health care. SonderMind provides a dependable and secure telehealth platform. 

Connect with a therapist through SonderMind today for an effective, secure path to better mental health


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