Virtual mental health care: 3 surprising benefits
No one is immune to a bad day. But when life’s to-do lists and unavoidable stressors start to feel overwhelming, therapy can help you bounce back.
Thankfully, more providers are offering virtual therapy sessions that are just a call or click away. That means you can take better care of your emotional well-being from the comfort and privacy of your own home.
And contrary to popular belief, getting virtual care for anxiety, grief, depression, and other mental health issues can be just as effective as in-person therapy, says Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., a clinical and organizational psychologist and the owner of Equilibria Psychological and Consultation Services.
Virtual mental health services even get the thumbs-up from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration. The government agency reports that meeting with a therapist via a video or phone chat is a “safe and convenient” option that makes it easier for people to attend appointments without worrying about transportation, parking, and scheduling conflicts.
Wondering if you’re a good candidate for online therapy? Consider these lesser-known benefits of meeting with a trained mental health professional. Then use our tips to prepare for your first few sessions.
Blue Medicare Advantage Members, make sure you are taking care of yourself with your Behavior Health benefit.
Benefit #1: Virtual mental health care will teach you new ways to organize your thoughts
Talking about things that worry or upset you helps to release those thoughts from your brain so that they don’t build up or grow stronger. “Having a trusted partner like a therapist you can talk to really helps release that buildup over time,” Dr. Lipkin says.
Of course, your problems won’t disappear after just a single therapy session. But chances are your head will feel a little clearer and you may feel a little lighter after you start talking. And once you’ve cleared some mental space, you’ll be in a better spot to handle any stress that comes your way, Dr. Lipkin notes.
Benefit #2: Virtual mental health care will help you gain a fresh point of view
Talking about your problems with someone you trust — but who also has some distance from your day-to-day life — may help you realize that some issues might be easier to address than you thought, says Dr. Lipkin.
Similarly, you may find that smaller problems are really hiding a much larger issue. Your therapist can help you clarify what’s troubling you and then help you work through or problem-solve your issues.
Benefit #3: Virtual mental health care will help silence your inner critic
Do these phrases sound familiar? “I’ll never be good enough.” “I shouldn’t have done that.”
It’s easy for negative thought patterns to get stuck on repeat. Virtual therapy sessions can help you get unstuck.
“It allows someone else to really challenge us on the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we’re putting our thought processes together,” Dr. Lipkin says.
Your therapist can help you recognize harmful and false self-beliefs and offer tools to shift your thoughts in a healthier direction.
Preparing for your virtual mental health care session
Review your health plan’s provider directory to find trained mental health professionals that offer virtual appointments. Before your first meeting, follow these tips to make your session a success.
Keep a positive mindset. If you go into a virtual appointment with the attitude that it isn’t going to work or that it’s not as good as in-person therapy, you’re not setting yourself up for success, Dr. Lipkin says. Therapy in any form is only as effective as you allow it to be, she adds.
Find a quiet, comfortable space. “One of the things that’s so nice about in-person therapy is that it’s a change of environment,” Dr. Lipkin stresses. Visiting a different location for an hour can offer you a much-needed mental break.
To simulate the sensation of visiting your therapist’s office, do your session in a room in your home where you don’t typically spend a lot of time, she suggests. Or, if you have a small apartment, try moving to a lesser-used part of it or rearranging nearby furniture.
Most important, be sure you have comfortable seating and are in a spot that’s free of outside distractions.
Help your therapist “read the room.” One of the downsides of virtual care is that it can be harder for your therapist to read your mood and energy. If you go into a session feeling fatigued or upset, it can be helpful to share that with your therapist.
“Giving that information to your therapist versus having them guess is really useful so they can meet you where you are,” Dr. Lipkin says.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask your therapist about alternatives to video calls, if needed. For example, if you feel self-conscious being on camera, a video visit may not be ideal.
“You can do your session on the phone and go for a walk, as long as there’s privacy,” Dr. Lipkin says.
No matter how or where you have your therapy sessions, you’ll be opening up to someone you can trust — and that’s the first step toward feeling better.
Facts about virtual mental health care: Health Resources and Services Administration
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.