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Telehealth for Kids’ Mental Health

It’s common for children’s mental health care providers to offer telehealth services. Put simply, telehealth is therapy that happens over the internet instead of in person. Video calls are the most common form, but telehealth sessions can also happen over the phone or via text chat.  

Telehealth can help kids with most common mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, ADHD and behavior problems. Doctors and therapists who use telehealth are required to follow the same privacy and security laws as other providers, and they must use secure internet connections for online sessions. 

Pros and cons of telehealth

Telehealth can have some advantages over traditional in-person treatment. One of the biggest benefits is that it can make it easier to find the right person to help your child. If you don’t live near a lot of clinicians or if your child needs to see a specialist, telehealth might be your best option. It can also make scheduling easier because you don’t have to spend time traveling to appointments. And for some kids, talking openly with a therapist is easier to do at home than in an unfamiliar office. 

Telehealth also comes with some challenges. Each U.S. state has its own licensing requirements, which means that you might not be able to work with someone in another state. And insurance companies sometimes provide less coverage for telehealth care, which can make it more expensive for you than in-person care.  

It’s important that kids have a quiet space at home and high-speed internet service to connect to telehealth sessions. Otherwise, technical difficulties and other interruptions can get in the way of treatment and make it hard for your child to connect with their therapist. Very young children and those with developmental delays may also have trouble staying engaged in telehealth sessions. 

How to find a telehealth provider 

If you think that telehealth may be a good fit for your child, there are several ways to find a clinician.  

  • Pediatrician: Your child’s pediatrician is always a good first stop. They may keep a list of local providers you can check with. 
  • Evaluators: If your child has already had a formal psychological evaluation, you can ask the evaluator for recommendations. 
  • Current providers: If you or your child already see a doctor or therapist, you can ask if they offer remote options or know of any colleagues who might. 
  • Your insurance provider: Often your insurance provider will have a searchable database of in-network providers. Some sites even have the ability to filter by doctors or therapists who offer remote services. 
  • Universities and teaching hospitals: Many telehealth programs are run through universities and teaching hospitals, so it’s worth taking a look at some of the big ones in your state. 
  • Internet: Try searching for the kind of clinician you want plus the word “remote” and your state to see what pops up. 
  • Parent groups:  There are groups based on location as well as groups for parents of children with a specific diagnosis. Connecting with other parents who have gone through this process already can provide solid recommendations — and help you feel supported, too. 
  • Professional organizations and nonprofits: Search for professional organizations and nonprofits associated with the type of care you’re looking for. Many offer directories of providers. 

No matter how you find your provider, remember that a high standard of care and a good fit with your child are key. Here are some questions you can ask potential telehealth providers: 

  • What is your training and experience? 
  • What kinds of treatment do you typically offer? 
  • How does remote treatment differ from in-person? 
  • What privacy measures are in place for remote sessions? 
  • Do you accept my insurance? 
  • What are your fees? Do you offer sliding scale or payment plans? 

How to prepare for your child’s first telehealth session 

Once your child’s first telehealth appointment is scheduled, there are a few things you can do ahead of time to help things go as smoothly as possible. 

Start by talking with the doctor or therapist about what to expect. Should you be present during the appointment? What will the first session look like? Is there anything specific you or your child should prepare? 

Then, let your child know what to expect. Have a conversation with them about how the session will work and ask if they have any questions or concerns. You can also let your child know that it may feel strange at first, but that within a few sessions it should feel at least somewhat like normal.  

It also helps to get set up for the session ahead of time. Decide what space your child will use and set clear boundaries — no eavesdropping or interruptions from siblings. If setting aside a private space isn’t possible, consider having the rest of the family put on headphones and focus on other activities during the session. The added privacy will help your child get the most out of treatment. Once the space is set, download any necessary software and do a trial run if you can. That way you won’t waste precious minutes dealing with technical difficulties. 

Finally, plan ahead to help your child stay focused. A good rule of thumb is to approach telehealth the same way you would an in-person appointment. That means no eating meals, no scrolling through social media, no noisy phone notifications. Talking this over with your child ahead of time and removing any distractions can make a big difference. 

Return to Connect to Care for more information about getting kids help.