Wellness·5 min read

theSkimm's Guide on Teletherapy

theSkimm's Guide on Teletherapy
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
May 11, 2020

The Story

COVID-19 has forced Americans to adopt a new normal.

Tell me more. 

More than a million Americans have been infected with the virus. And millions more have filed for unemployment. You might be dealing with the loss of a loved one. Worried about how to get a new job. Sheltering-in-place alone. Or feeling confined with too many family members around. No matter your situation, life as we know it has changed. And many are struggling.

So…what should I do?

First if you think you or someone you know has signs or symptoms of a mental health condition, do not self-diagnose. Mental health conditions don’t improve on their own, and if untreated, may get worse over time and cause serious problems. Get treatment from a doctor who’s trained to help.

Ok. But where do I start?

Since the outbreak, there are fewer in-person treatment options available. That’s where teletherapy and online therapy platforms can come in.

The 411 on Teletherapy

Teletherapy is more than 20 years old and is part of the telemedicine family. You might hear it referred to as telepsychology or telemental health. And it’s basically the practice of providing therapy via technology. Most of the time that means phone calls, texts, emails, online chats, or video conversations with a medical professional. 

Ok I’m interested, talk to me about the pros.

It usually means not venturing out of your apartment, and keeping a safe social distance from other people. And since it’s all happening digitally, you’re able to pick a space that you feel comfortable opening up in. 

Another pro: access to experts. The type of therapist you need could be miles or even states away. Teletherapy allows you to bridge that gap and see the specialist you need without having to travel. Plus it allows for remote support between visits. 

Ok, feel like there’s some cons coming.

Well, teletherapy isn’t for everybody. This form of therapy requires patients to have the right technology. That means certain people like seniors or low-income groups might have a harder time participating. 

Then there’s the whole virtual limitations thing. Speaking to a therapist from behind a screen or by phone can only paint part of a picture. Psychologists usually look for verbal and nonverbal cues when assisting patients. Add a text chat into the mix and their ability to get a full picture lessens even more. 

How to Get Help

Navigating and finding a therapist is hard on a regular day. Let alone doing it during a global pandemic. Here are some places to start:

  • Ask your primary care doctor, OB-GYN, or another trusted doctor you have for a recommendation. And if you don’t have a doctor you can trust…(keep reading)

  • If you can, narrow down what kind of therapy you’re looking for. There’s a lot out there. Start by taking a look at the American Psychological Association (APA) and try to hone in on what you think you might need. The APA also has a psychologist locator, crisis hotlines, and list of resources to help.

  • Use your network. If you feel comfortable, ask your friends and family for a recommendation. But remember: everyone has different wants and needs. So someone that’s a great fit for your friend might not be the best fit for you. 

  • Don’t get discouraged. Think of it like dating. You don’t always find ‘the one’ on your first night out. You might have to date around a bit to find a therapist that feels right for you. 

  • Try using platforms like TalkSpace or BetterHelp. You get paired with a professional after answering some questions about yourself.

Tips and Things To Know

If you’re going the teletherapy route make sure you’re on a secure, HIPAA-compliant system. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds. It basically means your health info will stay between just you and your doctor. If you’re not sure whether your therapist is using an encrypted or privacy-compliant platform, ask. 

What should I know going into therapy? 

Before you move forward with a therapist or a platform, there’s a few things you should think about:

  • If you’re new to the whole virtual therapy thing or just therapy in general, ask if trial runs, quick chats, or FAQ sessions are available. This is the time when you can ask things like: therapist availability, how they typically like to practice, and how they think they can help you. It’s also good to connect about expectations. Ask your therapist what kind of timeline they foresee. If you envision going to therapy for just a few sessions and they think you might need years...that’s something you’ll want to align on. And note: most psychologists cannot prescribe medication (you’ll usually need a psychiatrist for that). 

  • Standards. Whether you're having your therapy session over the phone or in person, the same set of guidelines (think: doctor-patient confidentiality, informed consent, etc.) should apply. And remember: your therapist should be licensed. This is something you can ask to confirm with them. 

  • Cost. Make sure you know what the costs will be before you say ‘sign me up.’ Most therapists charge per session. Some online platforms charge monthly membership fees. Also be sure to ask about cancellation or missed appointment fees. More on this down below.

Does Insurance Cover This?

It depends. If you have health insurance currently: Start on your insurance provider’s site. Most healthcare plans in the US offer mental health benefits just like they offer medical or surgical benefits. So if you have insurance, there’s a good chance you can get subsidized access to mental health treatments, like therapy. 

Once you’ve established what kind of benefits are offered within your provider, start to think about some other questions you might need answered like: which therapists are in your network, what it takes to submit a claim, how long you might be covered, or if there are deductibles or copays involved.

If you can’t find coverage through insurance: Check to see if you can find help through a Federally Qualified Health Center. Experts also recommend reaching out to the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741, which offers free help all day, every day. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.


As norms change and as COVID-19 continues, you might be struggling. Know that just because your routine doesn’t look the same doesn’t mean you have to suffer. Whether that means turning to a support group, finding a therapist, talking with a friend, or downloading an app, know that there are options available while you continue to shelter in place.

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