By Nathaly Vargas, Psychologist

While COVID accelerated the rapid shift to telehealth, some people still view virtual mental health as an inferior alternative. Why? Individuals have cited from overlooking body language to unreliable technology to lack of privacy. But the truth is, online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for treating certain mental illnesses and is beneficial for a number of other reasons including:

Avoid long waiting lists

One of the biggest barriers to mental healthcare access is long waiting lists, but by opting for online therapy, clients can bypass the waiting list and see a clinician almost immediately. Online therapy provides a boarder choice of therapists compared to local in-person options.  This means individuals can find a therapist with competency with their specific needs or who they feel comfortable working with, without being limited by geographical constraints. And if the individual really had their heart set on a clinician with a long waiting list, this allows them to see someone else in the meantime, so they have access to immediate mental health support. And once their preferred clinician has availability, they can transfer their care to them.

Increased access to remote communities

Studies show that telehealth was not only critical during the pandemic as the only way to see healthcare practitioners, but it increased access to care to certain groups while delivering the same quality of care.  People living in rural and remote parts of Australia experience mental health disorders at the same rates as major cities, however these communities suffer from a severe shortage of mental health practitioners. Data shows people living in these rural communities delay getting mental health support. But by opting for telehealth and online therapy, individuals living in their remote communities can get access to mental health support faster.

Increased flexibility & continuity of care

Online therapy can also provide flexibility and convenience for those individuals who don’t have the time to travel to their therapist’s office, those who are unable to attend in-person visits due to health conditions, or others who relocate often like fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) workers.  Access to mental health care is particularly important for FIFO workers who often spend extended periods away from home and loved ones, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness which can exacerbate mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

The good news: Now with governments shutdowns a thing of the past, telehealth remains a popular choice for many Australians.  Overwhelmingly, 43.7% of Australian expressed the need to prioritise telehealth to continue growth and improvement.  Waiting lists and geographical constraints are no longer barriers to access mental health support. Telehealth has opened access to individuals looking for mental health support enabling mental health clinicians to deliver the best outcomes to as many people as possible.