The Pros and Cons of Telehealth for Adolescents


The Pros and Cons of Telehealth for Adolescents

Prior to COVID-19, the use of telehealth was not a common practice. However, with the onset of a global pandemic, the mental and behavioral health community was forced to use telehealth as a primary form of service. Now that restrictions have eased, and there are options available once again, do you continue to offer telehealth exclusively? Do you only see clients in person? Or should you offer both options when working with adolescents?

Advantages of Using Telehealth With Adolescents

The pandemic saw a complete change in the way mental healthcare was accessed. These changes and challenges were detailed in the September 25, 2020 edition of The American Journal of Psychiatry online in an article entitled “Psychotherapy at a Distance,” which determined that for providers, telehealth was a limited substitute for more direct contact with clients.

While telehealth has limitations for certain people, adolescents are a group that typically finds remote mental healthcare through the use of technology both simple and efficient. With the demand for mental healthcare so impacted, there are many advantages for your clients, including:

  • Increased access to care: If clients do not have their own transportation, they can still access care on their own
  • Ease in scheduling: For clients who are busy and struggle to make time to drive to an office, telehealth takes less time and offers more flexibility in scheduling
  • More availability in crisis situations: Both client and caregiver are more likely to find time to quickly meet via telehealth in a crisis situation than they are to match up schedules for an in-office visit
  • Comfortable setting for the client: Clients can be at home or in a setting that feels safe and comfortable for them for sessions rather than traveling to an unfamiliar office
  • Greater consistency of care: Adolescents can be seen more consistently due to improved scheduling, availability, and accessibility
  • Comfortable with technology: Most adolescents are very comfortable with technology and have no issues with accessing care via telehealth

When Telehealth Should Not Be Used

Telehealth is not indicated for every client or situation. Some of the situations in which telehealth should not be used are:

  • Clients with serious mental health diagnoses
  • Clients who are suicidal or dangerous to others
  • Client with a dysfunctional or unsafe living situation

When In-Person Therapy Is a Better Option

In many situations, being in-person is simply a better option for your client. Some of the reasons might include:

  • When a client lacks access to technology, high-speed internet, or phone signal
  • When you know a client has no access to privacy for confidentiality purposes
  • Clients who have distractions in their homes or are easily distracted
  • Clients who struggle with verbal communication and may need to show nonverbal cues to be understood
  • Specific therapeutic modalities that need to be in-person
  • Group therapy typically is more successful when in-person

Advantages of Using Both In-Person and Telehealth

For many teen clients, there may be advantages to using both telehealth and in-person therapy. By using both methods, your client gets the best of both worlds. They can still have productive and fulfilling in-person office visits at whatever intervals work for both parties while also being able to access telehealth for maintenance, crisis situations, or when they would be otherwise unable to access care at all.

Challenges for Mental Healthcare Providers for Teens

For mental healthcare providers, telehealth provides many of the same scheduling and accessibility conveniences but also the same challenges as well as perceived challenges. Some of these same challenges include technical difficulties due to internet connectivity issues on either end, distractions for the client both on devices and in their environment, and concern for protecting the client’s confidentiality. Additionally, therapy is more challenging and less personal via telehealth without the ability to read nonverbal cues or make direct eye contact with clients.

There are some new advantages to treating clients with telehealth, as it gives providers direct access to witness information about a patient’s environment that teens may or may not speak about in person. While pets, siblings, parents, or other distractions may arise, providers also have the opportunity to meet those stakeholders in the client’s life and see them interact. In this instance, telehealth is the equivalent of making home visits without having to travel from your own home or office space.

While there may be more challenges than benefits for providers, telehealth can provide another facet of treatment previously not accessible. When used together with traditional, in-person therapy, telehealth can add to the overall access to care for adolescent clients and improve their outcomes.

There are both pros and cons to using telehealth to treat adolescents with addiction or mental health diagnoses. While telehealth can increase accessibility and convenience for clients, it may reduce the quality of care and has other limitations. Providers also have increased convenience but struggle to achieve the same results as they do with in-person visits. Offering both options may be the best solution for adolescent clients. Sustain Recovery offers structured care in an extended residential setting for teens with substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders. Our program offers clients the opportunity to build support during treatment so they have a network in place when they return home. Our facility is located in Irvine, California, but we also work to connect clients with support in their own communities. If you have a client you think may benefit from our program, call us at (949) 407-9052 to learn more.