What to Expect in Virtual Mental Health Care

What is virtual therapy like and what can you expect in a virtual mental health care program? Get the answers from our experts.

Change is hard for most of us. Doing something for the first time -- going to college, starting a new job, entering a relationship -- can feel daunting! We don’t always know what to expect, and with the unknown comes a great deal of uncertainty…especially when starting treatment.

“I understand what it feels like to be on the fence. The first step toward recovery is undoubtedly difficult, but the first step is what makes the rest of the journey so much more bearable,” shares Melinda, a student and alum of Eating Recovery At Home, our virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) for eating disorders. “Trust the process. That has been said a lot, but it’s 100% the truth.”

To help you take that first step toward recovery, we’re demystifying the virtual mental health treatment process. You'll know exactly what to expect with Pathlight At Home, our virtual IOP for mood and anxiety disorders.

A sneak peek into a week of virtual care

One of the key benefits of virtual care is its flexibility, making it an excellent option for students, parents and folks who want (or need) to stick to their regular schedules. “I didn’t want my recovery journey to affect my schoolwork and extracurriculars if it didn’t need to,” Melinda says. “Virtual care helped me maintain a schedule where I focus on recovery while working on other aspects of my life.”

To that end, most of our virtual programs occur during the evening to fit into busy lives and schedules (though we do have some morning and afternoon programs as well).

An average Pathlight At Home evening program may look like this:

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday:
5 p.m.: Skills group
6 p.m.: Behavioral activation group
7 p.m.: Process group

What is virtual group therapy really like?

Group therapy is an incredible tool for recovery, and we include three 3-hour sessions per week in our virtual programs.

“Each session includes the same patients and therapists, so you develop really close connections and bonds with each member of the group,” says Casey Tallent, PhD, director of collegiate and telebehavioral health initiatives at ERC Pathlight. “You get to share in successes together and support one another through challenges, which leads to each person feeling really connected to their peers and care team.”

By participating in the recovery journey of other people who are going through something similar, you’re able to gain new perspective and hope for your own future.

“What I found most helpful about group therapy was that, by understanding and suspending judgment from my peers' situations, I was able to put my struggles into perspective and more clearly understand my personal goals in recovery,” Melinda says.

While group therapy is serious work, it’s also filled with fun. “I had opportunities to bond with my peers through answering riddles and playing Kahoot,” she shares. “Overall, virtual care taught me how to be more compassionate toward others.”

What will I be learning in these group sessions?

Our teams use several different evidence-based treatment methods, including acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Our behavior activation group focuses on exposure and response prevention (ERP). Here’s a 101 on each.

What is ACT?

ACT is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that provides you or your loved ones with the skills you need to deal with difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions. Instead of “changing” or “getting rid of” one’s sad or painful thoughts, feelings and emotions, ACT emphasizes flexibility -- encouraging us to connect with our chosen values -- even in the presence of negative thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Learn more about acceptance and commitment therapy.

What is DBT?

DBT is a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment for severe, persistent emotional and behavioral difficulties. DBT is rooted in dialectics, a philosophy acknowledging some truth in all viewpoints, even though not all viewpoints are true (e.g., “There’s some truth to that” or “I understand you feel that way, and at the same time, there are other ways to see this”). Within the DBT approach, your feelings are validated and you’re also challenged to learn skills to make meaningful behavioral change in your life moving forward.

Learn more about dialectical behavior therapy.

What is CBT?

CBT is rooted in the idea that our thoughts and perceptions influence our behavior. A closer look at the term reveals the two main components of this therapeutic intervention:

  • Cognitive therapy explores how cognitions (thoughts, beliefs) influence our emotions and contribute to our anxiety and mood.
  • Behavior therapy examines how our behaviors and reactions in situations can trigger and/or perpetuate anxiety and mood symptoms.

This evidence-based therapeutic approach has been used for decades in the treatment of mood disorders and anxiety disorders because it effectively identifies and corrects the negative thoughts about ourselves, others and the world that trigger anxiety, depression and other behaviors that interfere with our quality of life.

Learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy.

What is ERP?

ERP is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention designed to help people safely confront their fears and interrupt patterns of avoidance and anxiety. At Pathlight At Home, exposure therapy is used extensively to address anxiety disorders as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Learn more about exposure and response prevention.

What’s it like attending sessions from home?

At-home care is just as effective as in-person care, our research shows -- and anecdotally, you may even find that you prefer virtual care over in-person care!

“When I’m at home,” shares Melinda, “I feel more relaxed and while this may seem counterintuitive, I feel the barrier of the screen eases my nerves and allows me to open up more about my personal thoughts.”

If you’re looking for extra support on your journey, try Pathlight At Home, our virtual intensive outpatient program for mood and anxiety disorders. This program is covered in-network by most commercial insurance plans. Get started with a free assessment and learn how to take recovery home.