In 2015, Anna Garvey coined the term, “The Oregon Trail Generation,” to describe those of us who were born too late to align neatly with Generation X, and too early to come of age with the digitally native millennials. In other words, tech has become an indispensable part of my life, but I also remember a time when the first thing I did each morning did not involve rolling over and checking my email on that pocket computer which all of my math teachers insisted that I would never have.
To members of the millennial generation and those that follow, receiving psychological services through online platforms that meet their needs wherever they happen to be seems perfectly natural. As psychologists seek to make their services more accessible to everyone, it is important to address those questions that come up about tele-mental health.
- Is tele-mental health treatment effective? The short answer to this question is yes! In perhaps one of the largest studies of tele-mental health to date, in 2012, Dr. Linda Godleski of the Yale University School of Medicine analyzed the cases of over 90,000 veterans who had participated in the VA’s tele-mental health program. Services delivered were demonstrated to be as effective (and in some cases more effective) than face to face services.
- How do I protect my privacy? At one time or another, you’ve likely used a video conferencing platform such as Skype or Google Hangout. Legitimate tele-mental providers will use a videoconferencing platform that uses encryption to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of your sessions. Services should be compliant with the standards of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which governs privacy standards for the electronic transmission of Protected Health Information (PHI). For example, I use VSee to conduct my sessions.
- Where do I go to participate in my tele-mental health session? One of the major benefits of receiving psychotherapy online is the ability to hold your session from anywhere you feel comfortable. This enables folks with busy professional lives, young children at home, limited mobility, and other time/travel limitations to receive effective treatment.
- Are there other benefits to tele-mental health? The most striking one that comes to my mind is the ease of providing interventions in the environment where a problem occurs. For example, many cognitive behavioral interventions for phobias and anxiety involve directly engaging in therapy exercises in the environment where the anxiety occurs. Tele-mental health provides the unique opportunity to do this without compromising your confidentiality. For example, if you struggle with claustrophobia, you could have your therapist present via video-conference link on your smart phone while conducting therapy exercises in an elevator.
It’s an exciting time to be in the field of psychology! Do you have additional questions about the benefits of tele-mental health? Ask away?