In an era where everything can be managed online from your central heating to your sex life, can we also expect to manage our mental health via the web? With an overburdened NHS and increasingly ‘remote control’ lifestyles, it seems that online counselling might fill a valuable niche.
In a recent survey by the Royal College of Nursing, 72% of interviewed Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) workers said there were delays in patients getting appointments, and 69% pointed to young people being sent “out of area” to get inpatient care due to bed shortages. But can the ‘talking treatment’ be replaced by a ‘typing treatment’?
We spoke to Dr Antonis Kousoulis, assistant director at the Mental Health Foundation, about the pros and cons of online counselling for those seeking help today. He says: ‘Some people prefer online therapy because of the added anonymity it affords, and the disinhibiting effect this has. Online therapies can also be more convenient, being outside of traditional office hours and eliminating the need to travel to access an appointment.’
The pros and cons
Online treatment might prove more enticing to those who find it difficult to physically attend sessions or are reluctant to leave the house. The format also allows for more time and space for patients to structure their thoughts before hitting ‘send’ to their counsellor.
However this could lead to more self-editing or a difficulty in expressing tone. ‘Much of human communication is non-verbal, through cues such as voice inflection and body language, so some patients will feel better supported by face-to-face therapies.’
Although online therapy is a welcome option for some people, it cannot be considered a wholesale replacement for treatment in person. According to mental health organisation Mind, the relationship between therapist and patient is a very significant one, and can greatly influence an individual’s potential for progress in treatment.
It’s possible that the distance between a person and their online counsellor might inhibit a useful development of mutual trust. But there are counsellors who can offer Skype or video calls between themselves and their patients, which can help build up a rapport between parties whilst still affording the service-user the benefits of remote communication.
Of course the internet provides avenues for support outside of official counselling, such as online forums or peer support groups. These may aid patients wellbeing in between traditional therapy sessions or help guide individuals to find like-minded people in similar situations to their own. However online safety is vital, and it’s important to never give out personal details if you don’t know who you are conversing with.
If online isn’t your thing but neither is face-to-face, there are plenty of other avenues provided by charities and health organisations such as telephone counselling, crisis hotlines and even text services straight to your phone.
It is important if you are seeking treatment to consider what you want a service to help you with, how much time you want to spend in therapy, and what sort of work and interaction you are okay with trying out. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a popular format for remote or online counselling because of the emphasis on practising mental exercises between sessions and documenting progress.
Although Google can be your friend when trying to research healthcare options, Dr Kousoulis always recommends making your GP your first port of call, as NHS therapies vary by area. But some people may feel their needs would be better met by online treatment, such as sufferers of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
Dr Kousoulis says: ‘More severe mental health problems are less appropriate for online counselling. It’s important to always have the severity of problems assessed by a GP, as we often don’t fully realise the impact our mental health problems are having on us.’
Of course mental health professionals don’t just deliver advice and a non-judgemental ear, they also assess a patient’s need for medication or other therapies alongside counselling. This is perhaps difficult to safely evaluate remotely.
The most important thing for Dr Kousoulis is that people who are concerned about their mental health don’t wait too long to seek help. ‘Do it sooner rather than later,’ he says. ‘Too often people only access support at or after crisis point, and even then they can still be faced with a waiting period.’
From: Netdoctor UK