After over a dozen years using technology as a tool to assist the counseling process, I am finally seeing the signs that e-therapy (also referred to as online therapy, distance counseling, telemental health, telepsychology and a host of other terms) may become part of mainstream mental health and wellness delivery! Could it be? I see headlines like Telemedicine on track for a mainstream breakthrough and I think we are almost there!
What has been most disappointing over the past decade, watching e-clinics come and go- many set up to serve direct to the consumer- is the apparent continuation of the stigma about seeking help for mental health issues. I say that because to date, third party payors such as insurance have not been consistent or abundant regarding mental health care reimbursement that is delivered via technology. And even though the services have been available online, potential clients of mental health have not sought out these services.
For a few of those years I would say that this represented the fact that technology itself had not hit the mainstream and that was the explanation as to why people would not pay out of pocket for an online counseling session. So I waited. When Facebook hit about 600 million members and the proliferation of mobile devices hit the masses and people were still not reaching out online to pay for mental health interventions, it dawned on me (duh) that a stigma still exists.
One might say, “Why should we pay out of pocket for mental health? We don’t pay out of pocket for healthcare.” That is not totally true though. If I break my arm I am going to seek out care whether I have insurance or not. But most of us won’t pay out of pocket to aid a broken heart or heal from betrayal. And as with the broken arm, it may just be a temporary problem requiring short term intervention.
What are the other signs the stigma still exists? People are paying for coaches, psychics, intuitives and other healing interventions. They pay full fees out of pocket, with no expectation of insurance reimbursement.to buy hope, healing and help from a variety of professionals, both trained and untrained but less so from mental health professionals. While it is good that others are helping, there are some mental health issues that are not temporary and require specific interventions from properly trained mental health providers. And many providers are providing excellent services online via email, chat, audio and video- and now interventions are extending to virtual worlds and gaming.
I know when insurance reimbursement becomes the rule rather than the exception we will see much more uptake of online counseling. In the meantime, if you have the funds and you want quality mental health intervention, consider online options. If you see a counselor already, ask if he/she can deliver services via technology rather than miss a session due to travel, scheduling or other reasons that may cause you to cancel.
The Use of Technology in Mental Health– it’s not just the name of a textbook! 🙂