Telecommunications technology has transformed modern life, and now it’s transforming how social workers, counselors, therapists, and clinical psychologists are providing mental health services, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The current health crisis created by COVID-19 further restricts access to mental health services, in that many counseling offices and clinics remain closed,” says Dr. Jayce Patton, director of field experience for Walden University’s School of Counseling. “The financial realities of job loss, grief over lost loved ones, fear for one’s future, isolation, and other major life stressors make the need for these services all-the-more pressing.”
Telemental health—delivering mental health care remotely, and sometimes over great distances—is making it possible to bring life-changing services to populations who previously may have lacked access to them. Clinical mental health counselors are interacting with clients through a wide range of technological tools including apps, videoconferencing, text messaging, e-mail, chat rooms, blogs, and websites.
Here are five of the benefits telemental health offers to patients and practitioners:
Telemental health puts mental health services within the reach of men, women, and children who live in rural or remote areas where counselors may be scarce. Some states, like Alaska, have lifted geographic limitations, allowing mental health providers from other states to practice telemedicine within its borders.1 Telemental health practitioners also can provide services in correctional settings when the patient and clinician cannot be together.
With clinical mental health counselors now serving clients over long distances through videoconferencing, travel time can involve just the seconds it takes to walk to one’s laptop. This innovative counseling model eliminates a client’s need for transportation, and any travel-related costs. Telemental health also can make it easier for patients to work appointments into their schedules without having to take time off from work. Clinicians may find opportunities to increase their patient loads if practicing telemental health eliminates or cuts back on the need to commute to an office.
Patients can wait an average of 25 days to see a mental health professional after making an appointment.2 Telemental health removes many of the barriers that lead to long waits to see providers. A patient in Miami no longer has to choose a counselor from a short list of practitioners within a comfortable driving distance or place her name on a waiting list. She may choose to work remotely with a professional in Orlando, 235 miles away. In addition to expanded options statewide, provider lists will grow as more states follow Alaska’s lead and loosen geographic restrictions.
In 1999, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher identified the stigma around mental illness as the most persistent barrier to individuals seeking help and noted that this stigma is more pronounced in rural settings.3 For patients concerned about appearing publicly at a practitioner’s office, working with clinical mental health counselors from home via teleconferencing, or by phone, can ease anxieties and promote acceptance of treatment. Professionals, advocacy groups, and others continue their work to dispel this misplaced sense of embarrassment or shame about seeking mental health services, heeding Satcher’s plea to “confront the attitudes, fear, and misunderstanding that remain as barriers before us.”
Research continues to affirm the efficacy of telemental health services, with studies showing that videoconferencing is as effective as face-to-face treatments.4 Offering increased provider options and a multitude of convenient technological vehicles, telemental health is a growing and effective alternative for those delivering and receiving mental health services.
“Telemental health provides the safest and most widely accessible way to connect mental health practitioners with the clients who need them,” adds Dr. Patton.
In expanding access to care, telemental health is creating opportunities for professional learners interested in growing their social work, clinical psychology, and counseling careers. In fact, the demand for mental health and social work counselors is expected to increase at a rate that is much faster than average during the 10-year span ending in 2028.5
If you’re considering a career in telemental health, a graduate degree in social work, clinical psychology, or counseling can enhance your career choices and prepare you for some of the most in-demand jobs: mental health therapist, mental health clinician, clinical manager, clinical therapist, clinical supervisor, mental health counselor, and licensed professional counselor. As an accredited online university, Walden offers career counseling to help you find the direction that’s right for you. Walden’s online degree programs also offer specializations that allow you to focus your learning on your specific interests and goals. Find the program that’s right for you and start making a difference in the field of telemental health.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering online degree programs in many disciplines, including psychology, counseling, and social work. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
5Source: www.bls.gov/OOH/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm and https://www.bls.gov/OOH/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.