Receiving psychotherapy treatment can be challenging for those who don’t have the time or means to go to a physical clinic. The Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s Telehealth program recognizes this need and tries to subvert the issue — the online clinic uses a “face-to-face” method of video conferencing between patients and psychotherapy services to provide evidence-based clinical interventions.
Founded six years ago by Dworak-Peck Dean Marilyn Flynn, Telehealth has a multitude of online counselors that partner with each client to develop a care plan, including research-based interventions to help them meet their individual and family goals. These interventions align with Dworak-Peck’s emphasis on practice that yields tangible results, while crossing barriers to entry with healthcare.
“There was a resistance or reluctance in some ways to bring that service or to bring the treatment directly in to people’s homes,” said Nadia Islam, Telehealth clinical director. “There were concerns around safety, privacy and so on, and that’s really what we took on as our challenge, because if we couldn’t reach people in their homes, there was still that barrier of needing to get to [them].”
Telehealth’s main purpose is to allow clients to get help from the comfort of their own home, specifically for those who may not be able to afford traditional counseling, or patients whose lifestyle or job requires them to move often.
“It offers an option for individuals and families who are not able or willing to present in person in a therapist’s office,” Islam said. “There are tons of people who have mental health needs and they could benefit from treatment but they don’t know how to connect those dots because of employment barriers, transportation barriers, mobility issues … Telehealth gives them the option to access behavioral health care in their own homes, provided they have access to technology and a private space.”
The program relies on a video conferencing platform designed to follow federal security guidelines. During a regular meeting, the client and counselor connect from different locations via a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Clients also have the option of meeting therapists in person for the first few sessions to get to know them first and become more comfortable.
“Once people have met individually in person it makes it so much easier,” said Marleen Wong, executive director of the Telehealth Clinic. “The relationship is started and then they are familiar with how to communicate on the internet.”
Telehealth currently has 30 licensed clinical social workers and Master of Social Work interns in California, which are organized into different treatment teams led by a clinical supervisor or faculty member.
Wong hopes the program can continue to grow, including its goal to provide service to college student populations.
“We’re looking at contracts that could serve other populations for free,” Wong said. “If there were a contact for university services … where there undergraduates wanted to be served, or the whole student body for that matter, they could simply just contact us … and we could connect them right away and get those services started.”