What Is Teletherapy?

Teletherapy is a way for therapists to reach a wide client base and continue serving patients in uncertain times. Read about how to become a teletherapist.

portrait of Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.
by Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.

Updated June 16, 2022

Edited by Desiree Cunningham
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What Is Teletherapy?
Image Credit: recep-bg / E+ / Getty Images

Therapy can be a vital part of a person's mental health and wellness routine.

Teletherapy provides the same mental healthcare as traditional therapy, but it does not require a client to receive treatment in person. Instead, a person can engage in speech, behavioral and mental, occupational, or other types of teletherapy through the phone, videoconferencing, chat or instant messaging, email, or mobile applications or apps that connect clients with professionals.

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Ready to start your journey?

Telehealth counseling and therapy can serve as a cost-effective alternative to in-office visits, and research suggests it provides as much benefit as in-person methods.

Are you interested in how you can enter the field of teletherapy? Continue reading to learn what teletherapists do and how to join this field.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teletherapy

What is teletherapy and is it effective?

Teletherapy is therapy, mental healthcare, or counseling provided via online or virtual methods. Clients can access treatment through video conferencing, the phone, instant messaging, or a mobile application. Research suggests that teletherapy provides about the same quality of care as traditional approaches, especially when therapists employ cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). While some individuals need to resort to teletherapy because of geographic limitations or safety precautions, others choose this form of care because of the convenience and flexibility it often provides.

Can you provide teletherapy across state lines?

State licensing requirements vary, but most mandate that therapists possess a license in the state where they provide care. This regulation also applies to professionals offering teletherapy. More specifically, therapists can only treat clients who live in the state in which they practice. Mental health professionals should check their states' rules and ethics standards on this and other issues regarding mental health care provision.

How do you start a teletherapy practice?

Establishing a successful teletherapy practice requires knowing the steps to take, including registering your business and acquiring a license according to state regulations.

Another crucial step includes choosing a teletherapy platform, considering factors like video quality, security, and technological stability. Launching a practice also involves effective marketing strategies like using online business listings, posting on social media, establishing a user-friendly website, and engaging in professional networking.

Instead of setting up their own practice, some professionals join teletherapy companies that take care of some paperwork and business-oriented functions.

What Do Teletherapists Do?

Teletherapists perform duties similar to those of therapists in office settings, helping clients discuss their experiences and feelings, referring people to other specialists and services, and maintaining confidential patient files. Whether working with clients face-to-face or through a computer screen, these professionals must maintain state-mandated licensure relevant to their specialty.

Because teletherapy sessions can seem less personal than in-office visits, teletherapists must build certain skills — such as active listening, sensitivity to clients' needs, and adaptability — to maintain an interpersonal connection and provide quality care. These professionals must also possess organizational skills to stay up-to-date with required paperwork and retrieve files at a moment's notice.

Why Practice Telehealth Therapy?

Benefits of Teletherapy

Lower operational costs.

Teletherapists can reduce the amount of overhead that comes with running an office, including renting office space or paying utilities, especially if they only work a few days a week.

Reaching more clients.

Teletherapists can help people who otherwise cannot access therapy because of finances or location. Greater access to more patients can help professionals build their client bases and generate more income.

Reduced commute.

Many mental health professionals who provide teletherapy can work with clients from home. This arrangement can help therapists reduce or eliminate the need to go into an office.

Enhanced privacy.

Allowing clients to receive therapy in settings comfortable to them can reduce privacy concerns. For example, patients who receive treatment in their homes do not encounter other people in busy waiting rooms.

More flexibility.

Teletherapy can make it easier to meet clients at times more convenient for one or both parties. It also enables therapists to balance work with personal and family obligations.

Drawbacks of Teletherapy

Compromised security.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects patient privacy. Unencrypted or insecure online platforms can make HIPAA compliance more challenging.

Communication obstacles.

Therapists can have greater difficulty interpreting body language or vocal cues in virtual environments. Online settings can also increase the time a therapist needs to build rapport with clients.

Technical glitches.

Slow internet speeds and other technical issues can interfere with a teletherapy session. Also, clients with limited technology skills or access to the latest computer equipment might not benefit from this form of care.

More potential for distractions.

Teletherapists should prepare for more noise or distractions, especially if clients cannot isolate themselves in a quiet room during a session.

Increased client anonymity.

On some online platforms like mobile applications, clients can conceal their identities. This feature can make it more difficult for professionals to provide interpersonal support or recognize when a client poses a threat to others or themself.

Future of Teletherapy: How to Become A Teletherapist

The future of teletherapy looks promising. The demand for telehealth therapists will likely grow because the existence of more virtual professionals increases access to mental healthcare, offers clients more privacy, and provides greater scheduling flexibility for patients and providers.

The COVID-19 pandemic compelled many mental health providers to expand their technologies to accommodate quarantined patients. Due to the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allowed therapists to use Zoom and other applications as long as they complied with HIPAA.

A professional learning how to become a teletherapist might need to fulfill more technical requirements like updating computer equipment, using password-protected platforms to comply with HIPAA, and limiting technological problems during sessions. Otherwise, teletherapists must comply with state regulations regarding training and licensing, depending on their specific occupation.

Behavioral and Mental Health Therapist

Behavioral therapists help clients address and cope with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health and behavioral conditions. During sessions, they often encourage clients to discuss their emotions and examine their responses to significant life events or changes. They also help people develop coping strategies, and they might need to refer some individuals to mental health specialists or inpatient treatment centers.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists work with injured patients or people with disabilities to help them carry out everyday activities. These professionals receive training to guide clients through recovery or help them improve the skills they need for daily living and working. Some professionals help patients with disabilities adapt their workspaces to maintain functions and productivity. Therapists also instruct clients in using leg braces, crutches, and other adaptive equipment.

Speech Therapist

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) or speech therapists diagnose and treat speech and swallowing disorders in children and adults. These professionals assess the difficulty their clients experience with speech, swallowing, and language and recommend treatment options. They also assist patients with oral and written language and help them improve their communication skills.

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