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Telemental Health During COVID-19

Clinicians are working with new and continuing clients to determine whether their individual counseling needs are best supported through Telemental Health (TMH) services (phone or HIPAA-compliant Zoom video) or limited in-person services following CDC distancing guidelines. It is important for you to make an informed decision about how to engage in therapy. We have prepared helpful information about the pros and cons of TMH during this pandemic.

For clients who prefer using video for their TMH appointment but do not have access to a private space and/or computer with camera and microphone, the Counseling Center offers a private room with limited availability where you can conduct your appointment. Please let the front office and your clinician know this arrangement is needed when scheduling your appointment. We will need your cooperation in engaging in sanitizing procedures before and after use.

PROS

TMH through phone or HIPAA-compliant Zoom video prevents possible exposure to COVID-19:

  • Please consider the risk of not only yourself, but also others such as roommates, friends, and family members with whom you will be interacting and who might be in higher-risk categories for illness or even death;
  • Both you and your clinician are required to wear masks during the entire session which some clients find uncomfortable (interpersonally and/or physically);
  • Even with masks, due to sessions being 50-minutes, the exposure will be prolonged in a confined space with circulated air;
  • If a Counseling Center staff member or client tests positive for COVID-19, to adhere to contract tracing requirements, demographic information about individuals in close proximity will be provided to the local health authority and consent for this disclosure is required for in-person services;
  • To engage in social distancing, capacity in our waiting room is limited and some clients will need to wait in the hall until we have capacity. There is a potential exposure risk in these shared spaces.

You can engage in TMH in a private space that is comfortable to you (e.g., bedroom or office at home or stationary car).

There is no need to travel to campus or the LBJ Student Center.

Scheduling may be easier since you do not have to plan for commute time.

Evidence is accumulating to suggest that the degree of clinical effectiveness of TMH treatments is comparable with the same treatments delivered in conventional in-office settings (Pruitt, Luxton, & Shore, 2014).

CONS

Depending on your living situation it may be difficult to find a private space for sessions. There may be distracting factors in your home (e.g., pets, noise from roommates or family) that you may need to address. Clinicians can help you brainstorm other private options such as sitting in a stationary vehicle, using a private bathroom/closet, or being in a private outdoor area.

Technology is not always reliable and there can be interruptions in your session. If there is an interruption, your clinician will call you.

You may not always have consistent access to a phone, computer, or internet with reliable bandwidth. The Counseling Center can coordinate for you to use a private room in the center (limited availability) to conduct your TMH appointment.

Phone sessions make reading non-verbal cues difficult for both the client and the therapist. Any in-person services require both you and the clinician to wear masks, which also disrupts non-verbal communication. Therefore, the video option is the safest and most effective during the pandemic.

Sometimes clients find it difficult to feels as “connected” during TMH sessions as they do during in-person sessions. You are welcome to discuss this with the clinician to find opportunities to improve the connection.