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Evaluating the Benefits and Challenges of Virtual Therapy and Counseling for Kids and Teens

Evaluating the Benefits and Challenges of Virtual Therapy and Counseling for Kids and Teens

In recent years there has been a steady increase of virtual services for children and families, particularly as we have all tried to navigate the effects of the pandemic on mental health care access, medical support, and other therapeutic services, like OT, PT, SLP, and ABA. Many doctors, counselors, therapists, and programs have shifted much of their service delivery to virtual support for their patients and clients.

 

Traditionally, when services were needed from a doctor, therapist, psychologist, or counselor, or occupational or speech therapist, patients would schedule an office visit. Children saw therapists in their office and met with their pediatrician at the health care clinic. With the advancements in technology, along with the need for providing services to remote areas, Telehealth and Telemedicine began to emerge. 

 

In 2020 the COVID pandemic caused a major shift in the way many providers needed to offer services. As the Pandemic created the need for us to begin practicing strict safety guidelines, some providers closed their offices temporarily, and some permanently. This meant that patients and clients had to quickly learn how to navigate virtual service delivery platforms.

 

Now that restrictions are being lifted and safeguards are in place to help protect our communities, many doctors, counselors, therapists, and programs have shifted much of their service delivery to completely virtual or a hybrid approach, offering both virtual and in-person appointments, to support their patients and clients. 


Teletherapy (also known as Telehealth, online counseling or therapy, digital services, virtual counseling or therapy, and telepractice, indicates that therapeutic services are provided through a video (and sometimes audio/phone or audio/video combination) connection with a healthcare or mental health professional.   

 

What services can be provided through Teletherapy?

 

Online therapy services may include individual, group, marriage and family counseling, telepsychiatry, psychological testing and education evaluations, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, ABA therapy, and parent coaching. Although the interventions may be somewhat modified due to the client and therapist not being in the same room, experienced therapists are able to successfully work with children and teens virtually, just as they would during in-person.   

 

Are Teletherapy services covered by insurance?

 

Most commercial and government health insurance companies have provision for teletherapy.  It’s important to ask your provider to verify your benefits for telehealth before making an appointment.  You may also want to call you insurance provider and ensure that virtual services are covered the same as in-person sessions would be. 


Telehealth Networks


As online virtual visits have increased, we have seen an influx of new online or digital health care companies (networks) for both pediatrics and adult-related services. Learn more about Telehealth networks and if they might be a good option for your family.

 

What are the benefits of using Telehealth for my child?


Convenience and Accessibility

Virtual therapy is incredibly convenient and accessible, especially for families who live in remote areas, have busy schedules, or have family members with special needs. Rather than having to drive to a physical office, parents can access virtual counseling from anywhere with an internet connection. This means that sessions can be scheduled during times that are convenient for both the parent and the child. Additionally, online counseling and therapy eliminates the need for parents to take time off work or pull their child out of school for appointments. Children can be seen before or after school or on weekends by providers who offer flexible scheduling.

Increased Comfort and Privacy

Some children may feel uncomfortable or anxious about attending therapy in person. Virtual counseling and online therapy can help alleviate some of these anxieties by providing a sense of comfort and privacy. Children can attend sessions from the comfort of their own home, which may help them feel more at ease and open up more to their therapist. Additionally, virtual visits may be a better option for children who are uncomfortable or become anxious in unfamiliar settings, such as a therapist’s office.

More Options for Therapists

Telehealth expands the options for providers, allowing parents to find the best fit for their child’s specific needs. Virtual counseling enables parents to choose from a wider pool of therapists, as geography is no longer a limiting factor. This offers more diversity for parents, int that they can find a therapist or other provider who specializes in their child’s specific needs, has more experience, has a particular approach that aligns with their values, and/or accepts their insurance.

Consistency and Continuity of Care

Teletherapy may provide more consistency and continuity of care than in-person therapy. With virtual counseling, parents don’t have to worry about missing appointments due to inclement weather, transportation issues, or other unforeseen circumstances. Additionally, online counseling allows children to continue receiving therapy even if they move or switch schools.

Integration of Technology

Telehealth integrates technology, which may help engage children who are more comfortable with digital communication. Children may be more likely to open up and engage in therapy when using technology that they’re familiar with. Telehealth is relatively easy to use. Additionally, some online counseling platforms offer interactive tools, such as games, digital worksheets, shared whiteboards, digital sand trays, and quizzes, which can make therapy more engaging and fun for children

What are the challenges of using Teletherapy?

  • Y0u must have reliable internet service and computer, tablet, or smartphone device to download apps or connect with provider online.
  • You or the provider may have technology (including weather interference) issues during the visit which may make continued connection challenging
  • It may not be the best option for clients who prefer being in the same room with their provider.
  • Children will need a quiet, comfortable space that minimizes distractions and provides privacy. Parents will need to plan for sessions ahead of time to ensure a conducive environment. However, a white noise machine placed outside the door along with headphones or ear buds are a good option to assist with confidentiality and better audio quality.
  • Children do not have the same access to therapy equipment or play therapy toys that they would have access to in the office.
  • In some cases, planning for services would be different than being in the provider's office. For instance, for healthcare, you would need to take your own temperature and blood pressure readings. For play therapy, you would need to have the toys, printed worksheets, or other items like crayons, paper, or Legos available for your children instead of using the ones in the Play Therapist's office.

The world has become increasingly digital, and virtual pediatric services has become a popular option for parents seeking therapy for their children. While in-person therapy has long been the traditional method, virtual counseling offers unique benefits that may make it just as effective, if not better than in-person therapy.  If you’re considering online therapy or treatment for your child, be sure to do your research and find a reputable therapist who has experience providing virtual counseling to children.  

Many parents, especially those with younger children, are wondering if Teletherapy is an effective treatment option for their child. The good news is that there have been several studies conducted on the efficacy of virtual support, particularly for children and adolescents. 

You’ll find a summary of these studies in these additional articles:

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