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Best practice guide

Telehealth for behavioral health care
For providers Best practice guides Telehealth for behavioral health care

Individual teletherapy

COVID-19 has led to reduced access to medical and mental health care. Delivering behavioral health care via telehealth is one way to address this widespread issue.

Individual, one-on-one therapy, one of the most common forms of mental health treatment, is now often available with telehealth platforms and other digital mental health tools. Get familiar with what is available and consider what makes sense for your practice, both during the COVID-19 public health emergency exit disclaimer icon  (PDF) and beyond.

Here are a few options:

  • Virtual talk therapy: Telehealth talk therapy visits address emotional and psychological issues, typically for 50 minutes per appointment. Providers typically conduct online counseling with a patient through video, phone calls, or online apps.

  • Telepsychiatry: Telepsychiatry can offer a range of services including online counseling and psychiatric evaluation and diagnosis. Unlike talk therapy, the provider may also prescribe and address medication management.

  • Online apps: Apps can be useful for tracking and monitoring mood, though they may require users to first enter information about their symptoms. App offerings vary and may include built-in features like text therapy, talk therapy, or chatbots. They may also offer resources, quizzes, access to online communities, guided meditations, or suggestions for activities. Apps can help users better understand moods and emotions and reframe negative thoughts.

  • Chatbots: Mental health chatbots use software programmed to mimic human conversation. They are designed to provide real-time encouragement, advice, and tips for emotionally challenging situations. Chatbots offer 24/7 support, which is helpful during weekends or evenings when more traditional forms of therapy are not always available. Typically a patient or the chatbot itself initiates the conversation.

  • Text therapy: Text therapy offers the convenience and relative anonymity of text messaging. Unlike chatbots, text therapy offers the assurance and support of a real person at the other end. Some text therapy lines offer 24/7 support in real time, while others provide responses from licensed professionals asynchronously or during different times of day. There may be some wait time to get advice.

Did you know?

Texts or chatbots can be useful for patients who want frequent contact or faster access to care between visits. They are ideal for answering simple questions or sharing resources. They are usually not appropriate for crisis situations, or for addressing complex issues. Most insurance companies do not typically reimburse costs associated with text therapy and chatbots.

Individual teletherapy benefits

  • Patients get more privacy and the chance to receive care without the stigma of being seen by others at a clinic or office
  • Convenient and often preferable for patients that have challenges leaving home or interacting with others due physical disabilities, anxiety disorders, autism, or post-traumatic stress disorder

Tip: Treat patients as if they are sitting across from you and focus on eye contact and empathetic expressions to build a connection. Trust is especially important in behavioral health care.


Athol Memorial Hospital

The Athol Memorial Hospital telemental health program serves local high school students. Based out of rural Massachusetts, the program provides important behavioral health and primary care in an area where the school nurse is sometimes the students’ only form of health care. Challenges such as broadband access and lack of privacy are common so text-messaging and email communication supplement virtual video visits. Read more about the Athol Memorial Hospital telemental health program exit disclaimer icon .

Last updated: July 2, 2021

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