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Lisa Leadbetter, LCPC Lisa Leadbetter, LCPC
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Telemental health comes to Maine

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For those living with challenges like anxiety or depression, there is hope. More than seven decades of research has demonstrated that therapy works, and it works quickly. For those who are struggling with negative emotions, lack of energy and interests, or who are just going through a difficult period of their lives, this means the road to recovery does not have to be a long one. But it requires one to seek and then receive therapy first. And that’s where it can become very difficult for many.

Common barriers to entering therapy include fear of being labeled or stigmatized, concerns for privacy, lack of transportation, and just being too busy to find time for an appointment. Thanks to advances in technology, a new and exciting service is now available and we refer to it as telemental health therapy.

Telemental health therapy is precisely the same as traditional therapy but without the face to face. Instead of going to an office to see your counselor, you instead link with them through a private and secure online application that can be accessed via cellphone, tablet, or computer any place, any time.

In our experience providing telemental health therapy services, feedback from participants is stellar. They feel it is more private since they avoid the waiting room experience. Others appreciate the option to not have to drive in the winter weather—instead, they can attend counseling from their home. Many professionals and students access telemental health therapy from their office/school during breaks or lunch. Some connect from the local park. Because telemental health therapy hours are more flexible than standard business hours, evening and weekend appointments are accessible and often available.

Consistent feedback from even the most skeptical has been that they were pleasantly surprised at how helpful telemental health therapy is to them, even though they doubted it at first.

To be fair, there are legitimate concerns with telemental health therapy that are important to discuss here. Firstly, technology can feel intimidating to some, hard to use and unpredictable. The prospect of having to download and install and app, run it successfully, and activate the camera on your device can feel daunting. Our clients receive an email in their inbox with a link that plugs them right into the virtual waiting area with several clicks. No hassle. Secondly, therapy is a personal experience where many choose to discuss private details about their lives and those around them. To do so through a computer screen may seem distant and unfriendly. Screen time with someone is different than time spent together—some social cues are absent. Yet when it comes to telemental health therapy, many learn quite quickly to rely on other social cues conveyed through the screen to fill in the gaps. The result is that the majority of participants report no difference in the quality of the therapy or their relationship with their therapist than if they were attending in person.

Is telemental health therapy right for you? You won’t know until you give it a try. Restorative Health and other area agencies are providing this innovative service. Take the first step. The road to recovery does not need to be a long one.

(Lisa Leadbetter, LCPC, is a therapist for Restorative Health.)

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