Mental health counselling is a one-on-one session between a patient and mental health professional. During sessions, they typically stay in one room, where the patient opens up about their difficulties at home, work, school, or relationships.
But that was before Covid. Now, more than ever, mental health services, including counselling or talk therapy, are readily available for everyone with private space and reliable internet connection. But what does online counselling cover? Is it the same as in-person consultations? How does it affect clinicians’ perspectives when they solely rely on a computer screen? Does it yield favorable patient outcomes?
Changing Mental Health Care Through Online Counselling
1. Growing Research In Support Of Online Counselling
Online counselling, telepsychology, teletherapy, or online therapy pertains to patient services delivered through the internet by mental health experts. In this case, providers connect to patients using a platform where they could see and hear each other. Meanwhile, others use phones, email, and the latest mobile apps to help manage issues concerning mental health.
This type of service has been around for decades, with research starting in the 1960s to assess and treat hard-to-reach populations. Since then, studies have consistently shown that online consultations are equally effective as traditional face-to-face counselling and could also help manage several mental health issues.
Research that supports this claim include the following:
- A 2012 study published by Psychiatric Services regarding veterans’ use of telemental health services found a reduced number of psychiatric hospital admissions and hospitalization days for both men and women.
- On the other hand, a study in 2014 posted on the Journal of Affective Disorders revealed that online treatment for depression has a similar effect as face-to-face treatment.
- Another 2014 study published on Behavior Research and Therapy showed that cognitive behavior therapy delivered online effectively treated anxiety disorders.
- Meanwhile, in 2018, a study posted on the Journal of Psychological Disorders showed that cognitive behavioral therapy delivered online could treat generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and major depression and produces the same result as face-to-face therapy.
- Still in the same year, another study published on the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare demonstrated that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) interventions delivered in person and through videoconferencing were equally effective.
- Finally, a 2019 study included in Psychological Services also revealed that online counselling is also effective for substance abuse and eating disorders in children and teens.
Science has shown that online counselling is similarly effective as traditional counselling. However, it required a global pandemic to make it accessible to many.
2. Increasing Client Access To Mental Health Services
Studies have proven that internet-based interventions work, and online counselling services in Canada, like online counselling Vancouver, seeks to address the current mental health needs of one in five Canadians who experience some mental illness.
Mental health counselling is appropriate for people experiencing mild to moderate mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, there may also be additional barriers, such as limited mobility, busy schedules, or social stigma.
With online counselling, there’s easier access to mental health services even if clients are in far-flung areas or in locations that do not have adequate interventions. These patients also benefit from flexible schedules with online therapy sessions, ranging from 15 minutes to an hour.
Online therapy also creates a safe and assuring environment for anyone not comfortable with in-person sessions or who struggles with the social stigma of mental health. This type of service enables clients to find support in the comforts of their own homes or alternative yet secure locations.
3. Clinician Acceptance And Implementation
Although evidence regarding online counselling attests to its effectiveness in managing various mental health issues, providers were not quick to adapt. After all, traditional face-to-face counselling allows them to observe their client’s body language and nonverbal cues–dimensions they feel aren’t as visible when clients are on screen. Moreover, clients may need to personally feel their therapist’s warmth and support so they could show improvement.
While these concerns are valid, the studies mentioned above show that online therapy offers many of the same advantages as in-person consultations. According to Canada Career Counselling, online treatment provides a safe and assuring environment so clients could comfortably share their problems. It allows clinicians to see their clients on their terms and in locations where they’re most comfortable.
Online counselling has been around for years, but it required a global pandemic for clinicians to give it a try. While hesitant at first, professionals are now using video platforms to reach out to their clients and even connect with many more. It expands their practice to include underserved areas and populations.
Research conducted by Jeanine Turner, Ph.D. and Georgetown University professor, shows that both patients and providers have a favorable outlook toward online counselling. This new approach makes mental health services more inclusive.
3. Highlighting Areas Of Improvement
Although telepsychology is beneficial for both providers and clients, its rapid adoption due to the global pandemic is not without challenges. For one, it has highlighted the need for a reliable internet connection and a secure environment as a prerequisite for online therapy.
For clinicians, this means they should ensure platforms are safe from security breaches. Professionals also need to assure them that sessions are confidential. Also, they have to adhere to legal and ethical obligations while delivering online counselling.
As not everyone has Wi-Fi or smartphones, healthcare institutions need to ascertain that local communities could offer alternative locations to allow client access. Libraries, medical centers, and even courthouses could provide private spaces to access mental health services. This could address older populations or those who are less tech-savvy but need intervention.
Online counselling has significantly altered mental health care. These changes not only impact concerned professionals and clients, but they also expose areas of improvement. Years of research have shown its efficacy equal to traditional face-to-face counselling, making it a promising modality amid the global pandemic and even into the future.
Clients now have greater access to mental health services as online counselling offers greater flexibility and privacy. However, although internet-based therapy has countless benefits, it requires technology upgrades and professional training to ensure that clinicians provide competent care and clients are safe and satisfied with this new trend in mental health care.
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