The internet has been a driving force in terms of bringing awareness to mental health issues. From Project SemiColon, which supports people battling depression, addiction, self-harm, and suicide, to R U OK? Day on the second Thursday of September, when Australians ask their friends and loved ones if they are okay, making room for open dialogue on their current emotional and mental health status. However, are we limiting the capacity to which the internet can serve mental health disorders, specifically social communication disorders?
Telepractice (also called teleaudiology, telespeech, and speech teletherapy) is the use of live-streaming to provide speech-language pathology and audiology to link clinicians with their clients. From assessments and diagnosis to interventions and consultations, telepractice is shown to be as effective as in-person consultation. The quality of telepractice is ensured because, in order to establish a credible telepractice, clinicians must follow the same Code of Ethics, Scope of Practice in Audiology, Scope of Practice in Speech-Language Pathology, as well as state and federal laws.
With the guaranteed quality of treatment, the question of the effectiveness of telepractice compared to traditional counseling methods is a non-issue. But in what areas can telepractice surpass them? When considering convenience for both client and counselor there are three versions of telepractice that one can participate in.
The first is Synchronous client interaction. This is a live interaction between the client and clinicians. Video chats, audio calls, screen-sharing, text chat between clients, one-on-one treatment, group therapy, and consultations with clinicians and specialists are some of the ways in which synchronous telepractice can be personalized to meet clients’ needs. The second is Asynchronous client interaction. This consists of either visual and/or audio data such as voice clips, audiology test results, video clips, etc. which can be saved and forwarded to clinicians for evaluation, in order to obtain a more in-depth analysis of clients’ patterns. The third type of telepractice is a hybrid of both asynchronous and synchronous that can be created around a schedule that best fits clients and clinicians. Regardless of one’s preferences for communicating via the internet, there is an outlet for them to feel comfortable with.
With all of these interactions happening and being recorded, the issue of client confidentiality is sure to come into question. Fortunately, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association states that clinicians are held to the confidentiality standards enforced by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
Additionally, clinicians are required to have an understanding of state and federal regulations pertaining to the electronic storage of information, types of technologies with privacy protections, specific telepractice software with encryptions, applications of VPN software and firewalls, and breach notification policies.
Websites that offer telepractice services connect individuals to a specialist based on the responses they give to either automated bots like on 7 Cups of Tea or through a live text chat like on Talkspace. From there, clients are given access to a specialist, depending on the length of their subscription. Plans for these kinds of subscriptions are more cost-effective than traditional treatments (though most don’t take insurance currently). Also, telepractice uses the subscription-based method of payment that many online platforms are starting to adopt, which should help further encourage the longevity of telepractice when compared to a by-session payment method.
A review of Talkspace was published on Business Insider. Erin Brodwin gives positive feedback of the process from getting matched to the actual therapy. After connecting with her primary therapist Nicole, a licensed mental health counselor, she spent a week of texting Nicole at her own leisure; sometimes replying quickly within minutes and other times sparingly between hours. Nicole was always available to give “thoughtful, detailed, and insightful” replies to her texts, and she felt like “[Nicole] was really listening.”
Telepractice is a growing avenue for mental health counseling. Thanks to the internet, it’s just as easy getting help for mental health disease as it is getting a date for a Saturday night on Tinder. The accessibility it provides users, although relatively new, already shows benefits and continues to grow as an equally reliable source of speech pathology counseling as traditional practices.
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