Secure Virtual Therapy Connect Platform

Mulitplatform Title Page for Client Demo w Play ButtonFeaturing the VTConnect App for Video Teleconferencing and Real-Time Chat

  • Multi-platform solution - PC and Mac available now with iOS and Android in Beta release!
  • Secure end to end encrypted communication that is HIPAA and HiTech compliant
  • Exceptionally high quality audio and video
  • Unique user interface that mimics the in-office experience


Blog

Original contribution by Michelle Market, LPC, VTC Practitioner

I stumbled into virtual therapy accidentally about two years ago in meeting the evolving needs of my clients. At that time, I had been working with a particular client for four years who was moving to London. This client, though highly functional, wanted to continue to receive weekly coaching and monitoring so we held regular video conferences using Internet-based tools. Shortly after this started, my home state of Virginia experienced a record snowfall; schools were closed for two weeks and everyone was snowed in (talk about cabin fever!). Using web-based distance therapy enabled me to keep in touch with my clients and maintain a regular therapeutic schedule despite the weather! Over time, the benefits of distance therapy grew: I connected with mothers during their children’s nap times, coached clients overseas, and kept up with students returning to college.

As you can see, bringing technology into my practice was a natural evolution yet I worried about information security and confidentiality. I knew I needed the help managing compliance! So, when Dr. Ireland told me about Virtual Therapy Connect, I signed on immediately; in fact, I was one of the original Beta testers! Virtual Therapy Connect enables me to offer encrypted messaging to my clients, which I couldn’t utilize before, and helps me to better manage protected health information. I chose to be part of this community so that I could offer this level of protection and confidentiality at no cost to my clients; they value my commitment to their privacy and confidentiality! Virtual therapy hasn’t shifted the way I work; it’s just opened up a new portfolio of services.

The Beck Institute Blog recently posted a synopsis of a 2011 study that determined that internet-based self-help programs using Cognitive Behavior Therapy techniques could generate positive efforts on the symptoms associated with binge eating disorders. This subject is dear to my heart—assisting people with disordered eating to recovery has been the focus of my career—but the ideas presented in this short article also excited me for another reason.

If you are reading this Blog, you’ve noticed that I’m a proponent of using technology within the therapeutic relationship. As I read this article, I thought, ‘Distance therapy is being validated!’ There are already outcome studies that show the value of this system of delivery. Some of the success comes from the fact that technology allows people to feel connected even when they can’t be face to face because they see that someone else is invested in their success.

In this study, participants did get weekly guidance and coaching from psychologists, but it wasn’t clear from the synopsis if the clinician conducted check-ins via face to face session, phone, email or some other method (we’ll have to read the complete study!). Regardless of method, I think it might be interesting to expand the scope of this study to include the impact of virtual therapy as a means for psychologists to monitor progress. Would additional improvements have resulted if virtual sessions were utilized?

CBT-style programs really lend themselves for self-help treatment because individuals have to challenge their thoughts, document triggers and change their behavior. There are already several apps (applications for smart devices or tablets) on the market for people to monitor and record their thoughts in the moment. These are beneficial because clients can share their progress with their therapist later. They know that someone who cares will take a look at their experience, so a level of accountability and connectivity exists even during self-help exercises.

Ultimately, this study is a great start and I look forward to additional studies to validate the efficacy of and outcomes from distance therapy. I believe this work is necessary if licensing boards and insurance companies hope to catch up with the new opportunities technology has opened to clients and clinicians. You can read more about “Internet-Based CBT for Binge Eating Disorder” here. What do you think about using online self-help treatments? Would you prefer to conduct check-ins via phone or email or would you be open to virtual sessions?

With the addition of technology to the therapy and care landscape, our industry is on the cusp of a transformation. Already, practitioners are leveraging technology to provide virtual therapy, which are transitional sessions held in an online environment using video conferencing when face-to-face sessions aren’t possible for whatever reason. I am a huge proponent of virtual therapy because it’s enabled me to continue to support patients with whom I’ve developed a therapeutic relationship despite having moved closer to my children. This means that my patients didn’t have to ‘start over’ and that I could, in essence, take my practice with me. Through regularly scheduled appointments that take place online rather than in office, I can continue to assist them on their journeys, drawing on local support groups and therapeutic groups to assist in the process. So, with a firm foundation in technology’s place in psychotherapy, I believe that, in the next five years, as virtual therapy’s foothold widens, the following transformation will occur:

  1. Insurance will start to pay for the delivery of services provided with technology. Right now, in most cases, patients participating in virtual therapy are self-pay. To encourage participation then, many virtual therapy providers offer lower rates than they would for in-office sessions, sharing the value of the lowered overhead with patients.
  2. Smart phones and tablets, along with the hundreds of thousands of apps that run on them, have given millions of people access to life and wellness tools. There are already scores of self-help, mental health and similarly themed apps, but I believe there is a huge future in therapeutic apps. Over time, as savvy consumers demand more utility, these apps won’t just be designed by engineers but will start to incorporate true therapeutic principles and be provided in a HIPAA and HITECH manner.
  3. Technology can enable therapy to move into the avatar arena where patients utilize graphics and avatars to express themselves and achieve goals. This facet will be refined to be more interactive and more immediate, transitioning from a disruptive technology into a smoother process, much like Gestalt Therapy or psychodrama. The US Department of Veterans Affairs is doing a lot to work with Avatars to treat PTSD but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

These advances are thrilling and open up new delivery methodologies to give patients the tools and care they need to reach their goals. Yet, we as clinicians have to be more aware of interpersonal relationships than ever and be firmly grounded. Technology is the means, but communication and improvement are the ends. No matter what, virtual therapy, therapeutic apps and avatar-based therapy are simply tools and not every tool is right for each client.

If you’re a prospective patient evaluating virtual therapy, you might understandably feel overwhelmed. Still, there are a number of advantages that are probably motivating your search: Perhaps you have a variable work schedule, or you travel often. Maybe you don’t travel at all due to health constraints or limited access to transportation. Do you worry about being seen at a therapist’s office or would you prefer not to involve your employer or insurer as you seek assistance for a specific issue? Whatever the case, here is a checklist to help you on your path.

Prior to your conversation…take the time to think about your goals.

Narrow down your specialty: what issue are you looking to solve? Do you need marriage counseling; assistance with an eating disorder; or need help to manage your depression? Each practitioner has a specific area of expertise.

Does the practitioner hold appropriate credentials? Are you comfortable with their level of training?

Have the practitioner’s listed credentials and licenses been verified by an independent third-party verification service?

During your conversation…interview your prospective therapist—you want to ensure best fit.

Are you comfortable talking with the practitioner and does the conversation flow easily?

Do you feel there is a personality fit and can you see yourself speaking openly with this person?

What is the practitioner’s approach to therapy and will that approach meet your needs?

Is the practitioner accepting new patients?

Are the available time slots convenient to your schedule?

How much does each session costs?

Did you discuss if you will need short or longer term therapy to reach your goals?

Before you decide…think things through.

Can you afford the therapeutic plan you discussed with the practitioner?

Will your insurance cover any part of your sessions?

Did you do research to see if there are reviews available regarding the practitioner?

Have you asked your friends, colleagues or general practitioner if they know or know of the therapist in order to get a more personalized opinion?

Can you see yourself communicating regularly with this practitioner as you work toward your goals?

Philosophical interest in what we now describe as psychology dates back thousands of years—the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Indians and Chinese all looked into the mind and studied human behavior. Over the centuries, ideas became more refined. By the 8th Century AD, Islamic physicians had constructed psychiatric hospitals and were assisting their patients with psychotherapy. Of course, the field really took off in the late 19th Century and here we are, another century later, doing our part to assist patients to reach their goals. We have tools, that our clinical forebears did not and we have access to technologies that they could only dream about.

So what does a psychotherapy practice look like today?

Well, to a large extent, a modern practice looks like it always has: it has the basics down: A practitioner who’s been trained, who knows their strengths and who is able to be authentic—sincere, present, real and responsive. This practitioner is comfortable with their own emotional experiences, including sadness, grief, anger, and so on, and is non-judgmental.

Now we add in the elements that make a practice ‘modern.’ A modern practitioner:

  1. Networks and has an online presence.
  2. Is comfortable with the technologies their patients are using and harnesses technology to keep up with social trends.
  3. Understand where some patients get social contact, such as ‘Second Life,’ social networks, etc.
  4. Follows on-going research that evaluates how technology is affecting us as a society (like research on human/technology interaction by Sherry Turkle, PhD at MIT).
  5. Is proficient enough in the use of technology to be able to help patients to integrate technology into their lives in a healthy and balanced way.

What does the future hold for psychotherapy? Technology is here to stay and the practitioner who grows with the times will be better able to serve patients with shifting needs. This could include needing additional flexibility when it comes to how and where sessions are conducted. Have you considered expanding your practice to include virtual therapy? That’s a topic near to my heart. If you follow this blog, you’ll learn more about it, or you could browse www.virtualtherapyconnect.com to see for yourself.

Disclaimer:

Please be aware that Virtual Therapy Connect is not a crisis center, and if you are in need of immediate help please call your local crisis center, dial 911, or present to the nearest emergency room.  If you are having suicidal thoughts and live in the US you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-784-2433.

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