How Teletherapy Will Suppress Social Work Wages

Teletherapy is the online delivery of therapeutic services (addiction, mental health, basic counseling) through Skype or Facetime or preferably a more secure video conferencing site. I have been at a few conferences and symposiums where the the subject of teletherapy was discussed.

Every single person that brought it up waxed about the benefits, which include: (1) allowing people in remote areas to access care; (2) allowing people who have a difficult time leaving their homes to speak to a professional (disability, obesity, agoraphobia); (3) connecting with a specialist who lives very far away; and (4) convenience.

The strongest arguments for teletherapy that are usually put forth are those first two points. While I have some concerns about privacy, security, and safety, I deeply believe that therapy needs to be an in-person experience where people can give each other their complete attention and full heed can be given to body language. But I am neither writing nor arguing about that today.

Teletherapy right now is being offered up as a counseling solution for people in remote areas or that can’t leave their home. A few programs and therapists are currently using it as a supplemental service after someone leaves an inpatient program or are traveling. Over the next few years, large health care corporations will establish themselves as the primary providers of teletherapy. Because they do not need to pay for a physical space and can hire remote workers, the cost of providing teletherapeutic services will be lower than in-person sessions. A MBA or some other bean counter whose sole focus is profit will then say, “We shouldn’t just offer this service to people that are disabled or in remote locations. Rather than being a special service, we should make teletherapy the norm. Think of the profits!”

Social work is a field that is well over 80% female. Because of both the nature of the work (helping the sick, poor, downtrodden, oppressed, cast aside) and the gender of the workforce, American society has put a low value on the labor. Despite its importance. The wages are extremely low compared to almost every other field, especially when we consider that it generally requires a Masters level education. In addition to their full time employment, many social workers work a part time job (some even have a third or fourth job, or a second full time job) in order to make ends meet.

Increasing the amount of teletherapy will suppress wages further. Ours is a field that really can not permit further wage suppression. Social workers and their professional organizations (NASW, ASWB) need to be aware of this. If they don’t, they sign their own professional death warrant.