What Is Telepsychology, and What Are Its Benefits?

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Among the many changes the COVID-19 pandemic brought to our lives was a dramatic increase in the use of telehealth. This extended into telepsychology — psychological services being provided through telecommunications — which is here to stay. A study published in American Psychologist in 2021 reports that telepsychology:

  • Represented about 7% of psychologists’ clinical work prior to the pandemic
  • Represented almost 86% of their clinical work during the pandemic
  • Will represent nearly 35% of their clinical work after the pandemic

Telepsychology encompasses more than providing virtual therapy. For example, providers can perform screenings, conduct diagnostic interviews, and provide psychoanalysis, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Because the concept may be new to many individuals, providers and clients should develop a thorough understanding of telepsychology and the benefits it can offer. Furthermore, students who are considering earning a degree in psychology and mulling the merits of psychology versus counseling or social psychology versus clinical psychology can benefit from understanding how new technologies may fit into their future careers.

A therapist meets with clients using a laptop to videoconference.

Defining Telepsychology

Learning the definition of telepsychology — and related terms such as distance therapy and e-therapy — is a good way to become acquainted with this method of providing services. According to the APA:

  • Telepsychology is the process of providing psychological services through telecommunication technologies.
  • Distance therapy is psychotherapy that is not performed in face-to-face sessions but instead provided through telephone, videoconference, or audioconference.
  • E-therapy is a form of distance therapy conducted through a webcam, text messaging, email, or chat rooms.
    Providers can use telepsychology to treat a wide variety of issues. For example, the APA has cited studies noting that it can be effective in treating:

Providers can use telepsychology to treat a wide variety of issues. For example, the APA has cited studies noting that it can be effective in treating:

  • Adjustment disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use

The APA has cautioned, however, that more research is necessary to determine whether telepsychology is effective in treating serious mental illnesses such as psychotic disorder or schizophrenia. Similarly, more research is necessary on its effectiveness when conducting group therapy or in treating individuals with comorbidities (multiple disorders).

Exploring the Benefits of Telepsychology

The benefits of telepsychology are numerous. A 2020 Medical News Today report noted that it has:

  • Increased access to care, for example, for clients who live where it is difficult to obtain services or for clients who have mobility challenges
  • Reduced client costs associated with receiving care, such as transportation or child care
  • Strengthened clients’ sense of privacy by eliminating the need to sit in waiting rooms
  • Helped reduce the spread of COVID-19 by allowing clients to remain in their homes

Providers themselves also have benefited. For example, telepsychology can:

  • Expand a provider’s client base
  • Reduce a provider’s cost of doing business (for example, by eliminating the need to lease an office and pay for the cost of utilities)

The APA also has noted that telepsychology can reduce the stigma that some clients may feel about physically entering an office to receive care; as a result, it can serve as a new entry point to help ease clients into obtaining care.

Tips for Providing Telepsychology

Providers need to consider a number of factors surrounding this mode of service delivery, according to a 2020 Counseling Today report. Providers should:

  • Verify the identity and location of the client to whom they are providing services
  • Monitor relevant laws and regulations about telepsychology in the states where the provider and the client live
  • Verify that platforms are secure and feature two-way encryption
  • Ensure compliance with all requirements in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), and ensure that any technology they use is compliant with HIPAA
  • Thoroughly describe the platform in forms documenting clients’ consent for services, so clients have a clear understanding of the method of service delivery
  • Develop a plan for glitches in technology and have a backup plan available
  • Form a plan for managing crisis situations that may arise while providing telepsychology services to clients
  • Make clients comfortable by showing them the provider’s workspace and by reducing distractions

In addition, a 2020 report in the journal Practice Innovations recommends that providers:

  • Seek opportunities for training on providing telepsychology
  • Consult with their liability insurance carriers on their coverage for remote service delivery and for providing services to clients in other states
  • Obtain advice from experts in areas such as malpractice and information technology

The APA offers advice specifically for providing services via telephone. For example, providers should:

  • Assess the risks and benefits associated with telephone treatment for each client
  • Avoid using public or unsecured Wi-Fi to make calls to provide services
  • Turn off all notifications, alarms, and ringers while providing services on a cellphone
  • Encourage clients to find a private place while receiving services
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues from the client, such as pauses, changes in inflection, or hesitation

Charting a Path in Telepsychology

With its increasing use, telepsychology has the potential to bring psychological services to large numbers of clients who may not otherwise have access to them. While providers must exercise caution and heed the advice of professionals in the field, telepsychology can provide the opportunity for rewarding work and the chance to better the lives of a new group of clients.

Individuals who are interested in acquiring expertise for a future career in the field should explore Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program. Maryville’s curriculum helps expand students’ understanding of human behavior, with a focus on multicultural psychology, biological stressors, and critical thinking. Take the first brave step toward a rewarding career in psychology today.

Recommended Reading

The Future of Psychology: New Methods for Helping People

Going Back to School for Psychology

What Is the Impact of Social Isolation on Cognitive Health?

Sources

American Psychological Association, Distance Therapy

American Psychological Association, E-therapy

American Psychological Association, Health Information Technology and Telepsychology

American Psychological Association, “How Well Is Telepsychology Working?”

American Psychological Association, “Telepsychology Expands to Meet Demand”

American Psychological Association, “Tips for Doing Effective Phone Therapy”

American Psychologist, “The COVID-19 Telepsychology Revolution: A National Study of Pandemic-Based Changes in U.S. Mental Health Care Delivery”

Counseling Today, “Making the ‘New’ Normal: Five Tips for Providing Teletherapy”

Current Opinion in Psychology, “Digital Privacy in Mental Healthcare: Current Issues and Recommendations for Technology Use”

Journal of Clinical Psychology, “A Consolidated Model for Telepsychology Practice”

Journal of Health Service Psychology, “Psychological Practice at Six Months of COVID-19: A Follow-Up to the First National Survey of Psychologists During the Pandemic”

Medical News Today, “Teletherapy: How It Works”

Practice Innovations, “Telepsychology Practice: Primer and First Steps”