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The pandemic has significantly impacted our mental health negatively, and this is mostly why Canadians are increasingly seeking virtual therapy to access quality mental health care in the comfort of their homes. Virtual therapy, also known as online therapy, involves meeting with a mental health professional over the internet using video, phone, or messaging apps.
Virtual therapy has many benefits, but not everyone is familiar with how it works overall. With this being said, clients need to be informed about virtual therapy so that the mental health professionals of their choice can give them the treatment that they need safely, effectively, and conveniently.
Virtual therapy is a form of mental health care conducted over the internet. It can take several forms, including videoconferencing, phone calls, or messaging apps. Virtual therapy can be used for a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among a slew of others.
Virtual therapy has become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the need for physical distancing and the inability to meet in person. However, virtual therapy has been used for years in some countries and is becoming more widely accepted as an effective form of mental health care even after the pandemic. Meanwhile, virtual therapy is often deemed synonymous with teletherapy. However, there are differences between the two that will be discussed below.
Virtual therapy and teletherapy are often used interchangeably to refer to mental health care provided remotely over the internet. However, there are some differences between these two terms. These are shown in the table below.
Compared to traditional in-person therapy, virtual therapy has several benefits for both patients and mental health professionals. Below are some of the most significant advantages of virtual therapy:
Virtual therapy makes quality mental health care accessible to those who cannot access it otherwise, like clients who live in remote areas, clients with disabilities or limited mobility, and clients who are unable to leave their homes due to health conditions.
Virtual therapy is more convenient than traditional therapy because it allows patients to meet with their mental health professionals from the comfort of their own homes. This means that patients don’t need to spend time travelling to appointments or taking time off work.
Virtual therapy reduces the stigma associated with seeking mental health care because it can be done privately from the patient’s home, which makes it easier for patients to seek help without worrying about being seen going into a therapist’s office.
Lastly, virtual therapy can help ensure continuity of care for patients who need ongoing mental health support. This is particularly important for people with chronic mental health conditions who require regular check-ins and monitoring.
While virtual therapy has several benefits, it also comes with some challenges. Just like in-person therapy has disadvantages, here are some of the most significant challenges of virtual therapy:
Since it mainly relies on technology, virtual therapy is prone to occurrences of technical difficulties. This can disrupt therapy sessions and make it even harder for mental health professionals to provide the level of care that their patients need.
Virtual therapy can also limit the ability of mental health professionals when assessing nonverbal cues and body language, which are important in understanding a patient’s emotional state. This can make it more challenging to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.
Due to technical difficulties, language barriers, or cultural differences, virtual therapy can also lead to miscommunication or misunderstanding between mental health professionals and their patients.
Virtual therapy involves sharing personal information over the internet, which can lead to privacy and security concerns. Mental health professionals must take steps to ensure that patient information is secure and confidential.
As virtual therapy has become increasingly popular in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several regulations and policies that mental health professionals must now follow when providing virtual therapy.
But even so, one of the main challenges facing mental health professionals in Canada is still the lack of a standardized accreditation process for virtual therapy. And while many mental health professionals have been able to adapt to virtual therapy through continuing education and training programs, there’s no certain way to ensure that virtual mental health care services are up to standard.
In Canada, mental health professionals who provide virtual therapy must be regulated by their provincial or territorial regulatory body. Each province or territory has different regulations, but most require mental health professionals to hold a license to practice and adhere to ethical and professional standards.
There are also reimbursement and billing policies for virtual therapy in Canada. Many private insurance companies cover virtual therapy sessions, and the Canadian government has provided funding for mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mental health professionals can also bill provincial health care plans for virtual therapy sessions.
Virtual therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy, especially if the guidelines are followed and the practitioner is highly skilled, highly trained, qualified and certified to practice. To provide safe and effective virtual therapy, mental health professionals should follow these best practices:
Mental health professionals should use secure and encrypted platforms for virtual therapy sessions to protect patient confidentiality and privacy. They should also have a clear policy on how patient information is collected, stored, and shared.
Obtaining informed consent and explaining the risks and benefits of virtual therapy must be done by mental health professionals in order to establish clear communication with their patients before and during virtual therapy sessions.
Mental health professionals should also be familiar with different virtual platforms and technologies and be able to adapt to new tools as needed. They should ensure that their patients have access to the necessary technology and internet connection for virtual therapy sessions.
Lastly, having a clear protocol for emergency situations and knowing when to refer patients to in-person care must be observed by mental health professionals. They should have a plan in place to provide appropriate resources and referrals for patients in crisis.
One mental health clinic adapted to virtual therapy is Archways Centre for CBT, a private psychology clinic based in Ontario. Archways Centre for CBT is dedicated to using evidence-based therapies grounded in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to help adults, adolescents, and children improve their lives. The clinic provides virtual sessions, as well as in-person therapy sessions.
Our mental health professionals all adhere to regulations and policies set by their provincial or territorial regulatory body and follow best practices to provide safe and effective care. As mental health clinics like Archways Centre for CBT continue to adapt to virtual therapy, Canadians can access mental health care from the comfort of their own homes. If you live in Ontario, reach us at (519) 472-6612.