Telehealth: Transforming Child Mental Health Care
Unprecedented need exists for child and adolescent mental health services in today’s communities, however, parents have limited options at their disposal. Shortages of child psychologists and psychiatrists are leaving our most vulnerable populations without care. Currently, all U.S. states are facing high or severe shortages, with many communities lacking even one qualified child and adolescent psychiatrist.
We need an effective solution, and it might be telebehavioral health. This convenient, accessible model of care has been gaining traction: Studies consistently reveal high satisfaction rates for children, adolescents and parents, often reaching above 90%. In fact, a 2013 study determined that telebehavioral health might be better than in-person care for children and adolescents because this age group often expresses an unwillingness or reluctance to participate in traditional therapy sessions.
Telebehavioral health might be a natural solution for improving access to care, but that’s just one benefit. As a counselor who offers telesessions, I’ve seen many more. Consider the following:
Clinical office settings often intimidate children and adolescents. I find that younger populations are more willing to open up when they are in their own environment surrounded by familiar possessions or in reach of pets who may offer comfort. With telebehavioral health, I also get clues and information from a home environment I never see in an office setting.
For example, one child was well-behaved during our traditional office appointments. Yet her mother described a very different child with erratic behaviors while at home. Through our telebehavioral health sessions, I could see family interactions that confirmed the mother’s assessment. I was then able to teach the young girl and her family healthy coping techniques right there “at home.”
Familiar Modes of Communication
Younger generations have grown up with technology. In fact, a 2015 study shows 67% of teens own a smartphone and spend more than four hours daily engaged with it. Videoconferencing, therefore, is a natural fit for today’s youth. Many teens prefer telesessions compared to traditional office sessions because it’s familiar and helps build trust. Simply put: Today’s youth are more comfortable communicating through a screen.
One of the greatest barriers to engaging younger populations in mental health treatment is stigma. Many adolescents fear their peers will find out they go to therapy and ask questions. Professional shortages and scheduling challenges often causes students to miss school to attend therapy sessions. When a student leaves school early or checks in late, their peers may ask questions or make them feel uncomfortable.
With telebehavioral health, scheduling becomes much easier, as sessions can take place outside of traditional office hours. Patients do not have to miss school, nor do they run the risk of running into someone they know in a waiting room.
When choosing a telebehavioral health care organization or provider for your child, it’s important to do research before pursuing treatment. Things to consider are whether or not they are HIPAA-compliant, if they offer technical or care navigation support, whether they have providers licensed in your state, and if you can pay with your insurance plan. A good place to start is a reference guide, such as the one created by Open Minds that lists reputable telebehavioral health organizations.
Telebehavioral health care is changing the way communities and families approach mental health services. At a time when the need for mental health care is soaring, this option holds great promise for addressing gaps in care and providing parents with a critical resource for addressing their child’s health and well-being.
Jeanine Miles, LPC, Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with Inpathy and the Director of Business Development and Training at the Center for Family Guidance. Jeanine is a New Jersey Licensed Professional Counselor and has over 20 years of administrative and management experience in healthcare and behavioral healthcare. She is responsible for the development and implementation of new programs including overseeing all start-up projects, social skills training and school based programs. Jeanine has provided therapy and other telebehavioral health services through Inpathy since the program was launched and has long been an advocate for telebehavioral health.