The use of telepsychology as an alternative to in-person psychotherapy has grown exponentially as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. A high percentage of psychotherapy now occurs through video-conferencing. Although some clients did refuse because they still wanted solely in-person treatment, most have gone along with the change.
Wallis (2022), who wrote a piece for the Scientific American, confirmed the switch from in-person to telepsychology. The article reported that in 2019 the results of an American Psychological Association survey showed that only 21% of psychologists said that they offered telepsychology as an option. However, in October 2020, the survey showed that 96% were doing so. What is more, a similarly high percentage found it to be effective.
Even before the pandemic, Wallis (2022) reported, researchers were investigating how well remote psychotherapy works. A meta-analysis of 20 studies done in 2018 found telepsychology using cognitive behavioral therapy to be effective for those with depression and for those with a range of anxiety disorders. A 2020 meta-analysis found that psychodynamic psychotherapy was also delivered effectively through telepsychology.
Not only has research supported the effectiveness of both cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy through telepsychology, research has also shown that telepsychology seems to be as effective as in-person therapy. Calkins (2020), in the Monitor on Psychology, reviewed research that has confirmed the effectiveness of this delivery method as compared with in-person therapy. This review reported on a large meta-analysis comparing the two types of clinical interventions, and it found similar outcomes between the two methods. Even more recently, the Monitor on Psychology (2021)shared the results of a meta-analysis in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy that again suggested telepsychology should be every bit as effective as the traditional in-person method. This study included 103 studies with 5,245 subjects. It showed that telepsychology patients made significantly more improvement than control subjects who had not been treated. Moreover, those who had had either telepsychology or in-person treatment showed the same degrees of benefit.
Telepsychology is indeed coronavirus safe. It is also very flexible in its use. On a mutually agreed upon time, a licensed psychologist and a patient in Indiana can access each other anywhere and anytime as long as they have a secure internet connection and private places. Also, HIPAA compliance with Security and Privacy Rules are offered by specific platforms, including the one I use, Doxy.me.
There can be complications (Wallis, 2022). Usually the glitches come from technical problems and internet connectivity. Some patients have a hard time finding a private space. They often resort to sitting in there cars with their smart phones. Some people miss the in-person communication. An important question remains. Will the states and insurance companies continue to support telepsychology after the pandemic? Only time will tell. But it is hoped that individual providers, their patients, and professional organizations like the American Psychological Association will advocate fully for it as a valuable contribution to psychological treatment.
Because data support the similar effectiveness of telepsychology and in-person psychotherapies, I am doing both at this point in the pandemic. I am offering a choice between in-person work to those who prefer it and telepsychology to those who see it as having advantages. However, when COVID-19 cases are rising significantly, I go back to telepsychology only.
Calkins, H. (2020). Online therapy is here to stay. Monitor on Psychology, Jan./Feb., 78-82.
In Brief (2021). Video-based therapy is effective. Monitor on Psychology, Sept, p. 17.
Wallis, C. (2022). The zoom boom in psychotherapy. Scientific American, January, p. 23.