Psychotherapy Under Lockdown: The Use and Experience of Teleconsultation by Psychotherapists During the First Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Background: Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, some psychotherapists had to propose remote consultations, i.e., teleconsultation. While some evidence suggests positive outcomes from teleconsultation, professionals still hold negative beliefs towards it. Additionally, no rigorous and integrative practice framework for teleconsultation has yet been developed. This article aims to explore the use and experience of teleconsultation by 1) investigating differences between psychotherapists proposing and not proposing it; 2) evaluating the impact of negative attitudes towards teleconsultation on various variables; 3) determining the perceived detrimental effect of teleconsultation, as opposed to in-person, on the therapeutic relationship and personal experience; and 4) providing insights for the development of a teleconsultation practice framework. Method: An online survey was distributed via different professional organisations across several countries to 246 (195 women) French-speaking psychotherapists. Results: Psychotherapists who did not propose teleconsultation believed it to be more technically challenging than psychotherapists who proposed it, but felt less constrained to propose it, and had less colleagues offering it. Attitudes towards teleconsultation showed no significant associations with therapeutic relationship, personal experience, and percentage of teleconsultation. As compared to in-person, empathy, congruence, and therapeutic alliance were perceived to significantly deteriorate online, whereas work organisation was perceived to be significantly better. While most psychotherapists proposed remote consultations, they did not provide adaptations to such setting (e.g., ascertaining a neutral video background); nor used videoconferencing platforms meeting privacy and confidentiality criteria. Conclusion: Training and evidenced-based information should be urgently provided to practitioners to develop rigorous guidelines and an ethically and legally safe practice framework.