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TeleBehavioral Health Competencies for Couple and Family Therapy

In this video interview, Dr. Katherine M. Hertlein’s talks with Ray Barrett of TCI about integrating technology into couple and family therapy sessions. Dr. Hertlein uses her experience as a Professor in the Couple and Family Therapy Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to emphasize the importance of telebehavioral health competencies when training counseling graduate students—and what skills practicing clinicians can learn to optimize client care.

In general, the couple and family therapy fields were slow to embrace telehealth as a worthy format for clinical work. According to Dr. Hertlein, “there was a fear around [using telehealth]” because of the significance placed upon the therapist-client relationship. But when COVID-19 set in, there was a stronger wave of acceptance for online counseling.

To help clinicians who are transitioning or new to working virtually with clients she outlines suggestions that you can put into practice, including adapting online environments so that they match the physical office experience as closely as possible. You’ll hear recommendations that clinicians, clients, couples, and families can use to design a space that supports clinical work. But this is just one of the many steps for counselors wanting to master telepresence in the virtual environment, a core telebehavioral health competency according to Dr. Hertlein. 

When therapists finetune these skills, the benefits of telehealth can be hard to pass up.

In addition to increasing clients’ access to services, the online format can be useful for handling marital conflicts or emerging anger, as well as the freedom and privacy that comes with home-based sessions. Overall, clients frequently report that they feel less vulnerable when meeting their therapist online.

Lastly, Raymond and Dr. Hertlein exchange tips for modifying technology to fit the needs of both the client and therapist. Some of the examples presented in the video include optimizing camera positions, finding the most effective gaze angle, and ensuring that families have a comfortable space in their homes for productive therapeutic sessions.

Dr. Katherine M. Hertlein is a Professor in the Couple and Family Therapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine. Across her academic career, she has published over 100 articles, book chapters, and 12 books. Dr. Hertlein has won numerous awards for research, teaching, mentorship, and supervision, including a Fulbright Core Scholar Award. Dr. Hertlein is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy. She currently maintains a private practice in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is the lead author of a 2021 article titled, “Toward proficiency in telebehavioral health: applying interprofessional competencies in couple and family therapy,” which was published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.

By: Michael Tugendhat

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