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Teletherapy for Teens During COVID-19

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT

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The coronavirus outbreak has changed almost every aspect of life as we know it. California and many other states have closed all non-essential businesses. Schools are shuttered – with no confirmed date when they will reopen. Theme parks, sports events, zoos, theaters, and other entertainment options are closed – also with no confirmed date when they will reopen.

Government and public health agencies have implemented strict social distancing regulations, which means that millions of U.S. citizens are stuck at home – including teenagers who may be struggling with mental health issues.

The social distancing guidelines change things for teens who receive in person, face-to-face mental health or substance abuse counseling:  many of them have shifted to teletherapy.

What is Teletherapy?

Teletherapy is a form of 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. Research shows that teletherapy is “equivalent to face-to-face care in various settings” and works as an effective alternative to traditional in-person therapy.

Of course, teens with severe mental health or substance use issues are not appropriate candidates for teletherapy – they need the 24/7, around-the-clock monitoring and support available at a residential treatment center (RTC). But for other teens, such as those in outpatient therapy, an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), or a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), teletherapy is as effective as in-person therapy, and may even have advantages over traditional face-to-face sessions.

Benefits of Teletherapy for Teens

For one thing, teletherapy eliminates the stress and time of travel. Teens can access mental health treatment without leaving their home, or even their room, making it a great option for those with limited access to mental health resources.

In our current coronavirus situation, this direct virtual access is exactly what teens under quarantine, shelter-in-place, or stay-at-home orders need.

In general, teletherapy is useful for teens living in remote locations around the country. It also makes it easier to maximize session time. When there’s no travel involved, teens can simply log on to their computer a few minutes before the session is due to start – even if they’re in their pajamas.

Also, given the comfort and ease teens feel with smartphones and other electronic devices, telehealth might facilitate the whole process. Teens might open up faster and respond better to treatment over the phone or through video-conferencing. The medium is familiar and comfortable to them. There’s no need to sit anxiously in a waiting room – which can feel like sitting out in public – worrying someone you know will see you there.

Making the Best of Difficult Circumstances

Telehealth can help teens who need treatment for behavioral, mental health, and/or substance use disorders make it through this trying time. Therapists are a text, a chat, a phone call, or a video conference away. It’s not ideal, but it will work. Everyone is eager for the moment officials announce the worst of the pandemic is past and we can all go back to life as normal. Officials would like nothing more than to lift the social distancing and shelter-in-place orders – but for now, we must all comply for the greater good. And for now, it appears that teletherapy is the best way for teens who don’t need around the clock monitoring and support to receive mental health treatment.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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Connect with Other Parents

We know parents need support, too. That is exactly why we offer a chance for parents of teens to connect virtually in a safe space! Each week parents meet to share resources and talk through the struggles of balancing child care, work responsibilities, and self-care.

More questions? We’re here for you.