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If you’ve ever questioned the possibility of evaluating a client remotely, I’m here to confirm that it can be done. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do evaluations via teletherapy. It’s one of the best ways to cater to clients who live a few hours away but happen to be in the same state. By mid-2020, I was completing most of my immigration evaluations virtually.
Fortunately, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows evaluations to be completed via teletherapy. In fact, telehealth has been made a top priority during the current pandemic. However, you generally need to be a licensed immigration therapist in the same state where the client is physically located.
Keep in mind that there may be short-term exceptions for interstate clinicians, especially during the pandemic. Nevertheless, all therapists should make sure they are authorized to do this before attempting to complete any evaluations.
Many studies have proven that teletherapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy. As long as you and your clients have access to the needed equipment, it’s a completely viable option. In most cases, the equipment required for a teletherapy session is a computer or mobile device with a camera and a microphone. Both parties will also need a reliable internet connection.
According to an article published by the American Psychological Association in July 2020, “the pandemic has accelerated the shift toward telehealth.” Research surrounding teletherapy began in the 1960s, however, it really picked up in the last 10 years.
Dr. David Mohr spent his career studying telepsychology and digital mental health. He is the director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Through his research, he came to the conclusion that teletherapy is essentially just as effective as traditional in-person therapy.
Telehealth evaluation challenges
Overall, telehealth is an opportunity to connect with more clients and make immigration evaluations increasingly accessible. However, it does have its fair share of challenges. Here is a list of challenges to consider:
- Technical issues can arise for both clients and clinicians. People often experience unexpected problems with their devices or internet connection.
- Clinicians will not have access to some of their tools. For example, they cannot use a sand tray, weighted blanket, art supplies, or toys.
- There can be privacy limitations for both clinicians and clients. It might be risky for personal health data to be transmitted electronically.
- Loss of vital assessment information that could support the evaluation. It usually helps the clinician to see the client in person or take note of who accompanied them to the appointment.
- No form of human contact. You cannot shake hands, kindly offer a Kleenex, or control the evaluation environment.
- The client or clinician might be affected by external distractions in their environment.
Benefits of evaluations via telehealth
The benefits of telehealth tend to outweigh the challenges. For this reason, many clinicians have resorted to teletherapy in order to meet the needs of their clients. Here is a list of benefits to consider:
- Flexibility for both clients and clinicians. You can schedule appointments at a time that suits both parties without being confined to specific office hours.
- Clients can choose from a wider range of clinicians. With telehealth, they are not limited to clinicians within driving distance from their home.
- Lower overhead for the clinician as they don’t have to concern themselves with managing and financing a large workspace.
- Online portals make it easy to share and organize relevant documents.
- Reduced waiting time for clients and clinicians. Both parties are more likely to start the appointment on time if they don’t have to travel to a physical destination.
- Comfort from being in your own space.
There is still a lot to be learned about teletherapy and how effective it is for immigration evaluations. However, plenty of clinicians have utilized this option prior to the pandemic and throughout the ordeal.
In an article published by Harvard Medical School, it was confirmed that almost three-quarters of Americans surveyed said the pandemic encouraged them to try virtual care. This confirms that the public is open to teletherapy as a viable alternative for in-person appointments.
Greenbaum, Z. (2020). How well is telepsychology working?. Retrieved 12 March 2021
Harvard Publishing. (2020). Telehealth: The advantages and disadvantages – Harvard Health. Retrieved 12 March 2021
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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