Telehealth Therapy: The New Normal

by Amy Huntsman •

Therapy is an important tool for helping youth in foster care develop coping mechanisms and process trauma. It can be so helpful to have a safe place and an unbiased person to be honest with.

Telehealth therapy, also called “teletherapy,” is mental health treatment in which patients receive counseling from licensed therapists online, usually with a video-conferencing app or via phone, email, or text messaging. Many young people have switched their face-to-face therapy visits to telehealth during the pandemic. This keeps therapeutic relationships going even as the world continues to fluctuate.

Many young people have switched from face-to-face therapy visits to telehealth during the pandemic. Here are some tips for keeping that therapeutic relationship going even as the world continues to fluctuate.

As a parent of a child in therapy, instead of weekly transporting my daughter to therapy in town I now set her up in her bedroom on Zoom so she can interact with her counselor.

In all honesty, it’s great. I love that I do not have to drive across town or get her early from camp, and she enjoys the novelty of using technology to continue her relationship and work. As a side benefit, using a video platform has boosted her tolerance for screen learning and taught her other skills she needs for virtual classroom learning.

When I asked her about teletherapy, Asheville-based child therapist Jillian Kelly told me child mental health providers have really rallied together to create forums to share telehealth techniques and interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve been quite creative in adapting modalities like Play Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) virtually,” Kelly says. “It’s led to some interesting conversations about using technology to meet the needs of children and families in years to come.”

According to Kelly, one benefit of telehealth is that it gives providers a glimpse into the home world of the child. “Being given ‘tours’ of their bedrooms or playrooms creates a rare window into the physical space they exist in. This opens up ideas for creating ‘cozy corners’ and other mindfulness-based spaces based on a clear assessment of what’s actually available.”

Two challenges of teletherapy with children can be maintaining their attention in a virtual session—this is especially true for young children—and ensuring safety. But these barriers can be overcome.

Kelly explains, “For children under age 7, I’ve found that engaging the caregiver as co-therapist on the other side of the screen is helpful and also powerful. With the caregiver as co-therapist, there is also a rich opportunity for continued growth and healing in between sessions given the caregiver can use these techniques and interventions any time.”

Some older kids and teens are actually more comfortable with telehealth than face-to-face therapy. Electronic devices are a critical part their lives, so it makes sense that some like connecting with their therapist on their phone without ever leaving their bedroom. For those who feel some stigma around therapy, telehealth gives them time with a clinician without the stress of having to travel or wait in an office lobby prior to the session.

Helpful tips for utilizing telehealth with children and youth in your home include the following:

  • Create a safe, quiet, private space your child or youth can use for every teletherapy visit.
  • Communicate with the provider prior to the session to relay strengths and areas of concern.
  • Troubleshoot technical issues prior to the session.
  • Keep paper, pencil, and other supplies handy for your young person to use if needed during their session.
  • Manage your expectations. It may take time for your child or youth to feel comfortable with the new platform and virtual interactions.
  • Ask questions! The clinician should be able to answer questions about your involvement, insurance coverage for telehealth, and whether teletherapy is the best option for your child.

Amy Huntsman is a licensing supervisor and adoptive parent from Asheville, NC. She has been working with children and families for over 20 years and is the proud mother of two girls, ages 7 and 8.