They say necessity is the mother of invention, which has certainly been true as it relates to the emergence and acceptance of teletherapy during the current health crisis.
And, while turning to an online, virtual environment for therapeutic needs isn’t a new concept, speech-language therapist Sandy Broderway points this may be the only option for some right now – particularly young people affected by COVID-related school closures.
Yet, Broderway says many school districts are so overwhelmed with the wide array of changes they are working to implement, from cleaning procedures to safe student transportation to accessibility of digital resources and the health safety of their students and teaching staff that their therapy teams aren’t yet equipped with the tools or a plan to begin offering remote services to those who need it.
“Vulnerable students’ personal and developmental needs have only been heightened by the world’s experiencing a health crisis,” says Broderway, founder of National TeleTherapy Resources, an organization that partners with schools to offer telehealth services like speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy, mental health services, and so on.
“Unfortunately, many children may not be getting the therapy treatments and mental health services they need simply based on the lack of time in school. With fall schedules still in flux within many districts across the country, this isn’t a problem that will likely get solved in the fall.”
That’s where Broderway and the National TeleTherapy Resources (NTR) team can step in and help.
Having practiced teletherapy for more than a decade, Broderway understands the best practices and advantages of using this model as well as the challenges schools face, both leading up to and during the start of the 2020-21 school year.
And, it’s the NTR team’s mission to partner with schools to assist them in better providing the essential services of speech-language therapy, occupational therapy, behavior therapy and mental health services to their students.
Is TeleTherapy Effective?
Of course, as schools work out strategies to provide these services to students with caseloads that are quickly backing up, their goals continues to be based on providing critical services effectively.
Can therapists and counselors achieve this through virtual connections?
Of course, Broderway says.
“When the well-being and success of our children are at stake, it’s always fair to question the effectiveness and legitimacy of any new methods that may or may not affect treatments,” Broderway says. “Fortunately, various researchers have studied virtual therapy and have reached similar conclusions: that teletherapy is effective and beneficial.”
For example, one study released earlier this year in the journal “Disability and Rehabilitation” evaluated the effectiveness of “tele-speech therapy” on the recovery of patients with a stutter.
Not only did this research conclude such therapy was effective for patients “irrespective of age, gender and education background,” but more than half the patients reported the experience as being highly satisfying.
Another study published four years earlier in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology concluded that “telepractice does not appear to have a negative effect on rapport between [speech-language therapists] and pediatric clients.”
How We Can Help
“During a time when school districts and therapy teams may feel their hand has been somewhat forced into a solution like teletherapy, these studies offer a level of comfort in knowing students won’t be negatively impacted from the change,” says Broderway
“And, since our team’s been operating virtually for years, we’re able to help these departments transition safely, effectively and securely toward this direction.”
Depending on a school district’s level of experience and need, the National TeleTherapy Resources team can help in translating therapy and counseling services to a more virtual program, provide additional therapists and tools for meeting need and demand, improve student attendance, and navigate related laws and regulations.
“But, as I like to point out, our ultimate focus isn’t on the school or the therapist or even the teletherapy platform; it’s to help the kids and make sure they’re getting the services they need to soar in life,” Broderway says.
“It’s because of this that we provide schools with the highest levels of service possible – from simple training to providing our full scope of services.”