Supporting Mental Wellbeing through Virtual CounselingFebruary 1, 2021
The past year has been a stressful time, leading to an increase in anxiety, depression and isolation. While social distancing has meant that mental health resources are harder to achieve in person, telehealth and online therapy have become even easier to access.
Virtual counseling has become more widely available than ever before as telehealth therapy platforms have expanded, support groups have become available online, and insurance restrictions have been lifted during the pandemic. Supporting mental wellbeing might be risky through in-person visits for the foreseeable future but can now be achieved remotely through smart devices and computers. Even after the pandemic has subsided, many people will choose to continue with virtual counseling which offers the convenience of connecting to a therapist from the comfort of your own home or office. It is also a boon to rural areas that might have limited access to in-person resources – as long as those areas have reliable internet coverage.
People who have been considering therapy but had resistance to meeting with someone in person or had trouble finding a local therapist have more options than ever. They don’t have to travel from office to office or be limited to clinicians licensed to practice in their home state. Therapy is more affordable, too. Some co-pays have been eliminated or lowered and mental health apps offer affordable options as well.
In light of social distancing, many therapists who hadn’t provided telehealth services before the pandemic are offering the option now. Many therapists are using platforms like Zoom, Doxy, or thera-LINK, which have the advantage of being HIPAA-compliant, so you can be sure your medical data and private information is secure.
Support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), have also moved online. The OIAA Directory features over 1,000 online AA meetings worldwide.
Virtual Counseling Coverage
For Medicare patients, new legislation has waived the long-standing restrictions on the use of telehealth services, at least for the duration of the current Covid-19 public health emergency. And Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) restrictions on the use of phones for telehealth visits have been lifted, which means patients can have virtual appointments with apps like FaceTime and Skype.
For those with private health insurance, a number of providers such as Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield have waived copays for telehealth visits, including those not related to Covid-19 symptoms. Some states have directed all insurers to cover telehealth services. Massachusetts passed a telehealth bill that requires payers to cover all such services delivered via telehealth that are also offered in-person, and to reimburse providers at the same rate for the next two years. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker wants a long-term plan to make telehealth a standard of care and pay providers for its use. The two-year provision provides time for the state and payers to negotiate a long-term agreement on telehealth coverage.
If You Don’t Have Insurance
Even without health insurance, there are resources available at little or no cost. Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) are community-based centers that offer care including mental health and substance use services. The FQHCwebsite has a health center locator tool which is searchable by address, state, or county. Contact your local center to find out about virtual counseling services.
The national crisis text line provides free crisis counseling by texting CRISIS to 741741. Help is available 24/7 and the crisis line is staffed by volunteer social workers and clinicians who reply within minutes. They can also be reached through Facebook Messenger.
Mental health support can also be found through “fast therapy” apps like TalkSpace, which provide affordable out-of-pocket subscriptions. The apps connect users to a licensed therapist through video chat and texting. Onlinetherapists.comprovides a ranked list of the best virtual counseling sites.
Finding a Therapist Online
More people than ever are feeling the need to speak to a mental health professional in order to deal with the increased anxiety, uncertainty, isolation and grief brought on by the coronavirus pandemic or other life issues. But how do you find the right mental health care provider for you?
For those with health care insurance, the insurer’s website is one of the best ways to find covered telehealth therapy providers. Otherwise, some of the most popular websites to search for mental health professionals include Teladoc, Amwell, MDLive, and Doctor on Demand. The thera-LINK Directory showcases providers who use thera-LINK for online services. Psychology Today has a “Find a Therapist” directory which includes teletherapy.