Getting telepsychology during a pandemic: It’s never the wrong time to ask for help
By Amy Marschall, PsyD | Originally published by The UpTake
Regardless of your mental health history, I think most of us can agree that we are living in a very stressful time. According to the Center for Disease Control, the stress of the outbreak has been linked to increases in sleep problems, mental health crises, domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and illegal drug use. We are anxious, we feel powerless, and we do not know what will happen next or how long this will last.
No matter your history or current situation, help is available. The American Psychological Association (APA) published guidelines for telepsychology services in 2013, and licensed therapists around the country have been offering these services to people in underserved areas for more than a decade. Thanks to modern technology, you can receive mental health support no matter where you are.
What Is Telepsychology?
According to the APA, telepsychology is “the provision of psychological services using telecommunication technologies.” Basically, instead of traveling to your therapist’s office, you can meet with them over the phone or using videoconferencing software. This means you can receive most services that would normally be in person while you and your therapist comply with social distancing and quarantine restrictions. Although therapy services are rightly considered essential, telepsychology lets you continue to have appointments if you or your therapist has to self-quarantine.
What Can You Expect During An Appointment?
When I transitioned to working from home, almost every initial telepsychology appointment started with a little bit of troubleshooting to make sure my clients were comfortable and familiar with the technology. We also talked about making the space they were in comfortable and therapeutic. Once these steps had been taken, telepsychology sessions became remarkably similar to sessions in my office. In fact, research (Hilty et al 2013; Varker et al 2019) has shown that therapy conducted over video is equally effective to in person therapy for a variety of ages and diagnoses.
Transitioning to video sessions can feel awkward at first, with anxiety about possible glitches, concerns about your therapist seeing your living space, and needing to be aware of your position in the camera frame. I recommend sharing these feelings with your therapist so they can address them with you. Most clients adjust to video sessions after the first few appointments.
What If You Don’t Have A Private Space for the telepsychology?
Confidentiality is a vital part of the therapeutic process, and therapists offering telepsychology are ethically and legally required to use a system that is up to federal standards for protecting private health information. Unfortunately, those in controlling or abusive relationships, or those living with a large family, might have difficulty finding a private, secure place for their telepsychology appointments. When you go to your therapist’s office, they ensure that others will not walk in on or listen to your appointment. They don’t have this control when you are in your home.
Talk to your therapist about any concerns you have regarding confidentiality. Most video software used for telepsychology have a chat feature that you could use to alert your therapist that your privacy has been interrupted, or you and your therapist could establish a code word or phrase that means that someone might be listening. You can also get creative about where you have your session and meet with your therapist from your car, an empty park, a bathroom, or a vacant shared space in your apartment building.
What If You Don’t Have Stable Internet Access?
Videoconferencing is not a resource that is available to everyone. If you don’t have the data to support a long appointment and do not have access to a stable internet connection, telephone sessions are another option. Phone sessions are considered secure and compliant with laws and ethics for confidentiality. Although you lose the visual connection to your therapist, research has shown that phone sessions can be effective in alleviating mental health symptoms.
Will Your Insurance Cover Telehealth?
After the government declared a national State of Emergency due to COVID-19, many insurance companies announced that they will begin covering telepsychology sessions from your home. Some are even waiving co-pays and deductibles for telehealth to encourage people to use these services. Your therapist will likely have information on whether your company is covering telehealth.
If you are a new client, or your therapist does not know if telepsychology is covered, call the phone number listed on your insurance card. Ask about coverage for billing codes 90791 (psychotherapy intake), 90834 (45 minute therapy session), and 90837 (60 minute therapy session) with telepsychology or telehealth. The company can also give you contact information for therapists who are in network.
What If You Aren’t Insured for telepsychology?
Paying out-of-pocket for therapy is not an option for many people, and unemployment on the rise, more and more people are left without health insurance. Fortunately, free and low-cost resources are available. Below are clinics that serve the Twin Cities area and are currently offering telehealth and telepsychologyservices:
- Walk-In Counseling Center (https://walkin.org/) offers completely free therapy services.
- Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota (https://www.lssmn.org/services/mental-health) has sliding-scale fees based on your income.
- Headway Emotional Health (https://www.headway.org/) has sliding-scale and works with all insurances.
- PrairieCare (https://www.prairie-care.com/) has financial assistance for people who are uninsured or those who cannot afford deductibles or co-pays.
We are going through a huge shift right now. If you are struggling emotionally, resources are available, even during the lockdown. Therapists can literally meet you where you are and help you walk through this difficult time.