A Detailed Guide to Teletherapy

It’s safe to say 2020 was a year of grief, frustration, and collective anxiety—and 2021 doesn’t seem to be any more chill. Teletherapy is starting to look pretty good. 

If it hadn’t before, the question of how to find a therapist has probably entered your mind. We are (not surprisingly) more stressed, anxious, and depressed than ever. In 2018, one in five American adults reported experiencing mental illness, and 2020 is pushing the number of people dealing with stress and anxiety to historic levels.

“The most common issue since March has been anxiety,” says Amy Cirbus, Ph.D., a licensed mental health counselor and director of clinical content at Talkspace, a platform through which therapists offer text, audio, and video support remotely. “For some users right now, the current climate has exacerbated chronic mental health problems. For others, their mental health challenges are brand-new. We know just how tough it can be to reach out for help for the first time.”

Online therapy has become more important than ever. And in an age of social distancing, connecting virtually is the new norm. “By wearing a mask, your facial expressions, around your mouth or by the creases around your eyes, are hidden,” says Alyssa Petersel, licensed master social worker, founder of MyWellbeing, a therapist-matching service in New York. “A therapist might miss those psychosomatic cues, which are helpful in reflecting what you might not be saying, but are likely communicating nonverbally. A mask puts a barrier on emotional communication that might not be verbal.”

Finding a good therapist you click with can be intimidating IRL, let alone virtually. So to help you tap into the many benefits of teletherapy, we’ve created a step-by-step guide to help you find virtual-therapy options that are right for you, from one-on-one talk sessions to virtual groups and on-demand texting.

What is teletherapy about?

When we picture therapy, we often think of a room with a couch, a lamp, a plant, and a bespectacled person with a notebook asking, “How do you feel about that?” But in an age of social distancing, therapy (like just about everything else in our lives) has gone virtual. “There’s a lot more intimacy when you’re meeting a client in their home and they’re meeting you in yours,” says Atara Vogelstein, a licensed creative arts therapist in New York.

Teletherapy, the blanket term for therapy sessions done through a screen, has been around for a few years. But relatively few therapists offered remote therapy, preferring to see clients in person. Michelle Herzog, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and certified sex therapist, runs a Chicago practice for couples and individuals and had never provided teletherapy before. When COVID-19 hit, she went all virtual, and her intakes have skyrocketed. “A massive chunk of my caseload I’ve never met in person,” she says. “But now meeting people over video feels normal.”

Hannah Singer, a licensed clinical social worker based in Boston, currently works with clients via Zoom and phone calls through a community mental health center. To support her clients, she tries to ”acknowledge the weirdness,” she says. “I give them the space to grieve that we don’t have answers.”

While therapists transition with clients online, Herzog explained that, as a therapist, “it’s important to have empathy that shit’s really hard right now, so we have to be flexible about how we do therapy.”

Teletherapy vs. in-person therapy

Doing therapy from home is definitely different from traditional therapy. But there are real benefits of teletherapy—in your own home, you may feel more safe. And getting vulnerable may feel less intimidating through a screen.  

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