So, What is Telemental Health?

by Michelle Beard

Telemental health is now synonymous with pandemic life. In New York Times articles and emails from your healthcare provider, health care professionals are encouraging the public to begin, or continue, counseling via telemental health care. But what should you expect when talking to a counselor remotely via telemental health? Generally, only the means of communication changes your experience.

Telemental health is provided via a telephone call or through a videoconference provider, similar to Zoom or Skype. Here at JFS, we primarily use Doxy.me, an easy to use web-based service that allows clients to see and speak to their counselor, similar to the Iphone’s FaceTime. To attend an appointment, counselors send clients a link to click on or paste into their Web browser. Clients type in their name, and are admitted to a virtual “waiting room.”  Just like in an office, when the counselor is ready to see you, they call you into the “office.” From there, your session proceeds as usual, and, at the end, you exit the virtual meeting with a click of your mouse. If you pursue telemental health over the phone, your therapist will likely call you at your scheduled appointment time. 

Utilizing telemental health is a privilege for me and my clients. Without it, we could not conduct their sessions. Clients are relieved that Doxy.me is easy to use, and that technology allows them to continue treatment. Access to health care during social distancing is not the only benefit my clients express.They no longer need to commute to the counseling office, arrange for childcare during their appointment, or schedule time off from work to receive the care they need and deserve. In these ways, telemental health makes counseling more accessible to some clients.

Reaping the benefits of telemental health rests on qualifications not available to all potential clients, though. Clients need access to smartphones or computers with a sufficient internet connection. They also need to be comfortable talking to their counselor through a screen as well as using technology. This is certainly a barrier for some clients. States might have other qualifications that complicate access. In Louisiana, for example, clients need access to a private space during their appointment, and must be physically in Louisiana during sessions due to licensing rules.

Some of my colleagues were skeptical of telemental health. The Director of Clinical Services at JFS admits, “I have always been reluctant to implement telehealth, as I was trained that so much of therapy happens in the room- how a client looks, smells, interacts when sitting in a room together. I’ve been amazed at how effective telehealth can be when utilized effectively and how necessary it truly is during the current challenges we are facing.” Many of our clients are making leaps and bounds during our telemental health sessions while in their own homes or workplaces.

Not everyone is comfortable with telemental health, and it is a decision you should make with your counselor. Many concerns can be addressed through telemental health, including depression, anxiety, and relationship issues, among others. You and your counselor can address your concerns in real time communication to see if telemental health would be right for you. At JFS, it is not clear when clients can return to in-office sessions, so we are thrilled to have such a successful alternative. At this time, JFS is accepting new telemental health clients aged 14 and up.  Please contact us at 504-831-8475 to obtain more information.