Teletherapy is increasingly becoming the go-to option for many trauma survivors as the Covid-19 pandemic has seriously hampered their ability to seek therapeutic help. Several crisis centres witnessed a decline in counselling referrals due to job losses, work from home, home-schooling, and social distancing recommendations from public health officials. Teletherapy has been a godsend for individuals who are in need of support to heal and move on from the grip of the past.
Unlike an in-person session where non-verbal communication can be sensed and captured by the therapist, online therapy tends to be more dependent on verbal communication. It happens in an environment where there is more distraction and less control i.e. the patient’s home. Patients can also choose to dodge the recommendations of the therapist as they enjoy more agency in a virtual therapy session. These issues can negatively impact treatment outcomes, as patients continue to reel under the shock of traumatic experiences such as domestic violence, sexual assault, childhood abuse, neglect, grief, separation, war, emotional abuse and more.
It is therefore imperative that therapists place survivors at the centre of their decision-making with regards to online therapy. Here are some teletherapy best practices that you could follow to ensure patient safety.
Opting for HIPAA compliant remote technology tools is of critical importance in teletherapy, especially when dealing with trauma survivors. A breach of sensitive patient data can do more than taking away your license; it can expose patient information and make them vulnerable to further harm. Always avoid using platforms like Facetime, Skype and Google Hangouts to counsel clients. Instead, use tools like Doxy.me or work with companies such as BetterHelp which use highly secure, encrypted technology that guarantees patient confidentiality and privacy. Click here to learn about the best HIPAA compliant technologies for teletherapy.
Before the sessions begin, walk the patient through the teletherapy technology to be used. Show them how the platform and systems work. If there are any potential risks with safety or confidentiality, ensure that you discuss the same with them upfront. Even if you use encrypted technologies, you can never be 100% sure that data security won’t be breached. It’s always better to give patients the full picture, so they know what they are signing up for.
In case the call drops during a session, the patient must be ready for the next plan of action. Decide on matters like who will call back and confirm if it would be safe to call back the patient. By developing a plan to resume the session, you can instil a sense of predictability about yourself with the patient, which would help them trust you in the long run.
Let the patient know that if someone in the house interrupts the session, you will remain silent until they are gone. By doing so, you help patients feel safe and comfortable about opening up to you from wherever they are.
If you are required to share personally identifying information about the patient, obtain their written consent via text or email. Get the patient to specify details such as what information can be shared, when, and whom it can be shared with. Record the details of the conversation necessary for informed consent.
Achieving successful treatment of trauma survivors using teletherapy is possible if you think through the risks involved and plan ahead. Collaborating with patients as partners can help make online therapy a smooth sail for all participants.