Chelsea Kneip, MA, LLP
In reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, I swiftly moved my practice exclusively online with the intention of returning to the office whenever it was safe. Along with my clients, I was trying online therapy for the first time. Had these circumstances not presented themselves, I may not have crossed over to online therapy anytime soon. Wouldn’t it be less personal? What if there were connection issues?
On the contrary, my clients and I quickly adjusted to meeting online. Connection issues have proved very rare, and I feel just as in-tune with my clients as before. Some of my clients have told me they prefer meeting online because of all the conveniences it offers. As for me, I’ve found that working from home and skipping a daily commute have improved my quality of life. This has me wondering: will this broad shift to online therapy during the pandemic inadvertently revolutionize mental healthcare going forward? The ultimate outcome remains to be seen, but it will likely depend on the following major factors:
Will insurance companies continue to cover behavioral telehealth in their policies?
The decision of whether to continue online treatment is not only up to my clients and me. In order to maintain my income, and for therapy to remain affordable for my clients, insurance companies will need to include permanent coverage for behavioral telemedicine in their policies.
In response to the pandemic, many insurance companies at least temporarily expanded coverage for online therapy, making it possible to move my practice exclusively online. But it remains unclear whether insurance companies will decide to do so permanently. Without this move by insurance companies, there will be no choice to make and I’ll return to my office.
Post-pandemic, will providers and consumers continue to opt for online therapy?
When it has been deemed safe again to meet in person, will therapists and their clients jump at the opportunity to go back to the office? Or, given the choice, will they instead opt for continuing their sessions on-screen? To my surprise, I find myself considering an online practice from here on out.
Moving to online therapy certainly has its benefits for providers and their clients alike, including increased flexibility in scheduling and time saved by the elimination of a commute. The option of online therapy also allows therapists to reach clients who would otherwise have difficulty making it to the office, such as those living in rural areas, those with mobility or transportation limitations, lack of childcare, and more.
On the other hand, some therapists and their clients will still prefer to be in the same room if they can. And online therapy probably isn’t ideal for every client; for example, therapists likely have a harder time engaging with younger kids on-screen, and not everyone seeking therapy has reliable internet, a device with a camera, or a private room in their home where they won’t be overheard or disturbed.
Ultimately, the ideal scenario for providers and consumers alike would be the ability to choose between online and in-office therapy depending on their needs and preferences. Some therapists, like me, may have come to prefer online therapy to the point that they’re prepared to forego their offices for good. On the contrary, others may be eagerly anticipating the day they can return. Others still may hope to be able to structure their schedule with the freedom to choose whether to meet online or in-person depending on the client, the day of the week, the time of day, etc.
In all, the ability to conduct therapy online during the pandemic has allowed therapists to reach more people than was ever possible during a time in history when access to mental healthcare was critical. What will come of the overall makeup of the field of mental healthcare remains unclear. Given all the conveniences it provides, it appears likely that with the green light from insurance companies, the utilization of online therapy will survive past the pandemic.