Therapy Goes Online: The Doctor Will Video Chat with You Now

For a growing number of patients, the webcam is replacing the therapist's couch

The C-section had been complicated. She wasn’t sleeping. But worst of all, Rebecca Jordan wasn’t feeling the joy she expected to feel after delivering her son.

“I started experiencing some swampy feelings,” says Jordan, 38. “I wasn’t in dire straits, but I just knew something wasn’t right.”

After participating in an online chat with other new moms with postpartum depression hosted by therapist Pec Indman, Ed.D., M.F.T., who specializes in women’s health-related issues, Jordan knew she needed therapy to get through this challenging time in her life. But while recovering from surgery and dealing with the demands of a nursing newborn, getting out of the house for an appointment was a really hard. On top of that, the therapists she contacted in her area didn’t have expertise in postpartum depression.

“I emailed Pec and poured my heart out,” Jordan says. “I said I couldn’t find anyone else to talk to. And she said, ‘Well, why don’t you talk to me?’”

Jordan is in New Jersey and Indman, who specializes in postpartum mood disorders, is in California. But thanks to a new online therapy platform called Regroup Therapy, the two were able to have virtual counseling sessions right from the comfort of Jordan’s nursing chair. Sometimes they met via phone, others time by video chat.

“It was a very workable, non-arduous process of healing that really fit with my lifestyle and my new son’s lifestyle,” says Jordan. “It was tailored to my needs.”

Regroup Therapy, and a similar service called TalkSession.com, allows patients to participate in online therapy sessions. They both use proprietary video technology that the companies say is more secure than Skype or other video chat services and fully protects a patient’s privacy and confidentiality. Sessions are live streamed but cannot recorded. The encryption ensures that the session is completely private.

“We use peer-to-peer technology,” says Melissa Thompson, CEO and Founder of TalkSession.com. “It’s like my phone calling your phone, only it’s my browser to your browser. We have technology that blocks the ability to record the session. Even if I wanted to record my own session, I could not.”

Both services allow patients to find the therapist whose skills best meet their needs. At TalkSession.com, patients are asked a series of questions before being matched with an appropriate therapist. “It’s like OKCupid.com for therapy, where we find you the best match,” Thompson says.

The service appeals to patients because there’s no need to travel to sessions and you can find a therapist who specializes in your specific challenges, regardless of where you live. For therapists, it increases the number of patients they can reach. As long as they have a computer and Internet access, people in rural areas, the elderly or anyone with a disability or phobia that makes leaving the house hard can access treatment.

“With online therapy, it does feel like you’re right there with the patient,” says Kristin B. Hodson, L.C.S.W., owner of The Healing Group in Salt Lake City. “You can read the body language, see the clues. I see people being more candid than they would be if we were in the same room, especially on topics related to sexual dysfunction.”

Not all therapists have embraced this form of patient interaction. “Some therapists say they have to see the patient in person,” says Thompson. “I want to how they act and look. Do they smell like alcohol? They claim to need that. But think of all the information you can get from seeing a person in their home environment.”

Preliminary research into the success of online vs. in-person therapy shows it works. A study by the University of Zurich found that in patients suffering from depression, those who received eight sessions of online psychotherapy fared just as well as those with conventional therapy. And satisfaction levels were high -- 96 percent of online patients rated their experience with their therapist as “personal” even though they had never met face-to-face.

Payments are made directly to the therapists through the sponsoring websites. Depending on their coverage, patients may then seek reimbursement through their individual insurance plans. Twenty states have passed legislation requiring insurance companies to reimburse for online therapy.

“For me, Regroup Therapy is about improving access and making life easier for my clients,” says Indman. “It’s much more effective than working on the phone. And it allows people to find a therapist who really has expertise in the area you need.”

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