Extending the Reach of Clinical Services: Tele-health and Social Work

February 3, 2017 @ 11:00 pm

In an online event held on January 30, 2017, CSSW alumna and adjunct faculty member Amelia Ortega and full-time faculty member Beth Counselman-Carpenter held a discussion of the impact, both actual and potential, of technology on clinical social work practice. Although a version of tele-health has been around for a long time, both speakers said that recent advances have made it much easier and cheaper for social workers to offer online behavioral therapy services to their clients, especially those who might not otherwise be able to access such services.

Watch the event here:

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Digital disruption has been gradually making its way into the field of social work, and we are beginning to see changes in existing models of clinical practice as well as shifts in the methods of service delivery. According to featured speaker Amelia Ortega and her discussant, Beth Counselman-Carpenter, the disruption seen thus far has been driven largely by client demand. Video and audio communication technology has improved rapidly in the last ten years, and clients who do not have adequate social services in their local areas but also lack the time and money to travel are seeing in these developments fresh opportunities for getting their needs met.

In response to questions posed by Communications Director Mary-Lea Cox Awanohara, Ortega said that as a youth who lived in small town America, she would have availed herself of such services and that this personal experience had been one of her incentives for becoming an early adopter of tele-behavioral therapy. While conceding it wasn’t yet possible to reach everyone who lives in a rural area due to the nation’s digital divide, she said she already has several clients who are benefiting. She went on to talk about the learning curve involved in mastering online communications tools, pointing out that her transition to teaching online—she teaches courses on human behavior for CSSW’s online campus—likewise seemed daunting at first but is something she now enjoys.

Counselman-Carpenter outlined her own history of working with clients online, which began with some student clients who were frustrated by the wait to get appointments at on-campus mental health facilities. To her surprise, her next client was a grandmother followed by a group of mothers of children with Down syndrome who live in rural areas.

The event culminated with a series of exchanges between Counselman-Carpenter and Ortega, who also took questions from the more than 200 people who attended. Much of the discussion focused on the risks of getting involved in a practicum that doesn’t yet have clear guidelines and operating principles. Even the basics of how to get paid or which online connections are HIPAA compliant aren’t clear, and it was interesting to see that Ortega and Counselman-Carpenter didn’t agree on everything, such as the use of Skype.

Topics included:

  1. What are the rules and regulations governing the provision of tele-behavioral health services? Is it possible to get certified?
  2. When do you begin offering tele-health services with a client, and do you offer this alongside other services?
  3. What clinical modalities work best through tele-health services?

We offer thanks to the presenters, the online events team, and the audience (over 500 signed up and nearly half of that number tuned in for the live event) for making this such a successful event. Participants agreed it had been helpful to share experiences in this nascent but rapidly growing area of clinical social work practice.

The event was sponsored by CSSW’s Online Campus. The next deadline for applications to the Online Campus, for both full-time and part-time programs, is April 1, 2017. Get information here.

Check out the other events in CSSW’s Online Event Series: