With Governor Pritzker’s recent extension to the stay-at-home order for Chicago, many people are coming to terms with the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Beyond restocking on groceries or checking our toilet paper supply, another month of coronavirus quarantine (at least) can also mean social isolation, disrupted work or school schedules, financial hardships—not to mention the stress that already accompanies a global pandemic. With all of these unique and additional stressors, teletherapy during coronavirus quarantine may be a helpful outlet.
For those who have recently started therapy or who have already been in therapy for some time, this change can also mean a disruption to our ability to receive the help and support we need. This is particularly challenging because many of us need the support now more than ever before. Others who may have been considering therapy may now feel as though they’ve missed their chance, or that they have to wait to start working with someone until things return to “normal.” Fortunately, many practices are looking into providing teletherapy services so that you can meet with a mental health professional from the comfort of your own home.
But what actually is teletherapy? Is teletherapy helpful? Does it work? As therapists transition to providing telehealth services in Chicago, these questions and others have come up time and time again. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions about teletherapy and whether it is an option for you.
What is Mental Health Teletherapy?
Teletherapy refers to therapy services conducted remotely. Sessions most typically take place over a secure, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platform in which the client and therapist can still communicate face to face. This allows for much of the experience of a traditional therapy session to be preserved while also abiding by social distancing measures.
Is Teletherapy Awkward?
Maybe at first, but most new things are! The first teletherapy session feels like an adjustment for both therapist and client, but most clients report that any those feelings typically dwindle after the first session.
Is Teletherapy as Effective as In-Person Psychotherapy Sessions?
The question of “teletherapy vs. in-person therapy” is one that always comes up, but the answer is a resounding yes! In the vast majority of cases, teletherapy is just as effective as sessions that take place in-person. Whether starting therapy for the first time or using teletherapy as a stopgap for sessions that have been interrupted, most clients find that remote sessions are not only just as useful for them as meeting in person, but are often more convenient, too.
How Does Teletherapy Work for Couples Counseling?
Teletherapy absolutely works for couples counseling! You and your partner can still sit on the same couch together to virtually meet with your therapist. We can do that too! Whether you and your partner are quarantined together or in separate locations, our teletherapy platform supports both individual and couples therapy sessions.
Is Teletherapy Confidential?
Given that therapy sessions are taking place outside of the privacy of a therapist’s office, concerns related to privacy often come up when considering whether to make use of teletherapy sessions. At Bergen Counseling Center, we mitigate threats to privacy and confidentiality in a few ways. When we provide telehealth services, we ensure that we are alone in a quiet, private place that won’t be intruded on or overheard. Second, we exclusively use telehealth platforms that are HIPAA-compliant, meaning that they meet or exceed security and privacy standards that are required to ensure the safety and confidentiality of personal information. As much of our worlds move online, we’ve become increasingly aware that not all videoconferencing platforms are created equal . By using a HIPAA-compliant telehealth software, we ensure protection against the possibility of unwanted interruptions or intrusions.
But What if I Don’t Have Privacy at Home?
As schools close or people begin working from home, privacy is harder to come by—even in our own homes! For teletherapy to be as successful as in-person, it’s important that you are as free from distractions as possible and are able to comfortably speak with your therapist without fear of being overheard or intruded on. For some, this may simply mean stepping into a bedroom or private office and closing the door. For others, however, it may not be so simple. Here are some tips for securing an hour of privacy for your session:
Arrange childcare ahead of time
Ask your partner to take the reins for an hour so that if you happen to hear the little ones fighting mid-session, you know that it’s already taken care of.
For both you and your partner. Whether it’s podcasts, music, the latest Netflix series, you don’t have to worry about a partner or anyone else at home overhearing your sessions if they’re wearing headphones. Similarly, you’ll better hear your own therapist if you wear headphones during your session.
Ask those you live with to take a walk
A mid-day walk in the sunshine can serve a dual benefit of bolstering the mood of those you live with while also buying you an hour of privacy for your session. As long as they aren’t gathering in groups or visiting highly crowded areas, a walk outside can maintain distance from others while providing great mental health benefits.
Use your cellphone as a white noise machine.
By playing white noise or other non-distracting background noises from your smartphone and placing it outside your bedroom door, you are able to convert your device into an easy white noise machine! Many music streaming services have white noise tracks that you can play quietly on repeat during a session, or you can find videos on YouTube that will do the trick as well.
In short, communicate, communicate, communicate. If you have a partner, parent, or anyone else in the home, it’s important that you explain that in order to make the most of your teletherapy session, you need some alone time. Thinking proactively about these needs (and what interruptions you might expect) can help you and your therapist to make the most of your remote sessions.
Can I do Teletherapy without a Webcam? What if I Don’t have a Computer?
Accessibility of sessions is one the biggest concerns when it comes to doing therapy over the internet. Fortunately, if your computer is on the fritz or you don’t have a webcam, there are other options available. At Bergen Counseling Center, our teletherapy platform allows sessions take place via an app that can be downloaded freely to Apple iOS or Android devices. This allows for therapist and client to still meet face to face using the camera in your smartphone.
What if My WiFi is Slow? Or Isn’t Working?
If your internet is being slow, it can be a good idea to ask others on your network to avoid downloading or streaming anything during your session. This will help make sure you have enough bandwidth to avoid choppiness or distortions in your video. If your internet is down or if you simply don’t have access, that’s still ok—audio only phone sessions are also a great option and are covered as teletherapy services too!
Can I Continue Therapy In-Person After Coronavirus Quarantine is Over?
Absolutely! This is one of the largest benefits to meeting with a local theraepist for teletherapy session instead of one of the nationwide tech start-up therapy options. The Bergen Counseling Center is located in Chicago with in the Loop and Ravenswood neighborhoods. After it is safe for all of us to return to our work and our lives, you will be able to seamlessly transition to in-person appointments even if you started meeting with your therapist via teletherapy sessions. Your therapist will provide regular updates regarding timelines and options with you as needed. We are committed to providing the help you need both during coronavirus pandemic and beyond.
How Much Does Teletherapy Cost? Will Teletherapy be Covered by My Insurance?
For IL residents, Governor Pritzker has mandated that teletherapy services will be covered at either 100% or at your in-network insurance rates. Since these rates are determined by your insurance company specific to your plan, we cannot provide an exact out-of-pocket estimate until we run a benefit check on your behalf. Our dedicated billing staff will collect your insurance information at the time you book your initial teletherapy session and will provide you the specific coverage for your insurance plan.
We are Accepting New Clients!
Whether you’re making the jump from in-person to teletherapy services or are considering starting services now, the tips above should help you make the most of your sessions. If you have questions about teletherapy that aren’t addressed here, or simply want to know more about the therapy process at all, complete the contact request form on this page and one of our therapists will reach out to you directly and answer any questions you have and to learn more about how we can help!