As our world becomes more and more tech savvy by the day, so too does the online counseling landscape. Gone are the days when patients formed long time-consuming lines to seek health care treatment from a doctor in an office.
Just as we all adjusted to face masks and social distancing, more people are of the opinion that virtual therapy is a viable alternative to face-to-face meetups.
Today, those seeking therapy can do so online, and that too in a setting that they are most comfortable with. While traditional counseling occurs in person, online mental health service is provided through digital mediums such as mobile apps, email, texting or video conferencing.
Online therapy is fast becoming the ‘new normal’, a quiet worldwide revolution which may not have received much fanfare, but is aggressively transforming the way of treatment for psychological disorders.
Trends over the past two years have shown a radical increase taking place due to a sudden upsurge by practitioners to conduct their treatment over online psychotherapeutic platforms rather than through face-to-face interactions. Here are six reasons why this shift to virtual therapy is growing:
Eliminates the stigma
Even though the stigmas associated with mental care are diminishing each year, we can’t pretend they don’t yet exist. This is especially true in certain communities which are more inclined to reject modern lifestyle choices and ignore scientific or medical conventions.
Providing therapy directly to the home of such patients helps them maintain their privacy and feeling of safety and respect. Thus, it also has the indirect benefit of making the treatment more likely to succeed.
Virtues of comfort and convenience
Therapists can see patients by video, in their car, at lunch or in a quiet private room at home, without having to navigate through traffic and figuring out where to park. This newfound convenience and privacy from colleagues or family members has enabled working people, especially, to embrace online therapy more readily.
Virtual therapy is also a boon for young people as they are familiar with texting and making video calls on their smartphones. People can open out easily from their own sofas rather than from a brick-and-mortar office. Finally, online therapy offers simpler access to medical care treatment for those living in remote or rural areas.
As effective than in-person therapy
Several studies from all parts of the world have indicated that online therapy is equally effective as in-person therapy, especially in the long run. These studies found very little difference between telemedicine and face to face interactions in the fields of empathy, participation and attentiveness. The only difference found was that sessions delivered through phones were shorter.
In the near future, as network effectiveness opens up and becomes widely available, therapists and their patients will be able to conduct sessions better in a shared computer-generated world, from any physically distant location. Moreover, virtual reality therapy is proving invaluable for preventing, assessing and treatment of stress-related disorders, anxiety, depression, phobia and posttraumatic stress disorder. Virtual therapy has also made the patient to learn new coping skills and be more resilient.
Change in attitude of therapists
Therapists, surprisingly, are finding virtual therapy working well for themselves, a thought which was inconceivable in the past.This is because the thinking towards online therapy has changed dramatically over the years. Clinicians, who showed a ‘devil may care attitude’ in the past are now happy to use it, with a majority shifting a part of their business from physical to digital mode.
Therapists can offer more sessions, which is a welcome sign for both the doctor and the patient. In addition, therapists can gather more information over online platforms, without the visual distraction. Seeing someone in their own environment also provided valuable data for the clinician. In fact, there are practitioners who have started to provide support, encouragement and practical ways to those who are unfamiliar with the virtual scene to establish a rhythm about it
Online therapy is cost-effective
Therapists, especially those who are well established, charge phenomenal consultation fees, often by the hour. While this is more or less expected due to their high overhead bills, it can become quite prohibitive for the patient. In return, online therapy works out much cheaper than personal consultation, up to even 60% less than traditional therapy.
Some therapists even offer rates on a sliding scale, according to one’s income, or a special rate for the jobless and students. This is because of the fact that many persons cannot get access to healthcare treatment, once they loose their job and insurance benefits. One can even find free or low-cost therapy online. Then there are adept social workers who adjust their hourly charges to help make virtual therapy more affordable for the client.
To understand how a huge shift could occur in such a short time,(the US reported a 12-fold increase in telepsychology in 2020), in addition to the change in attitude and behaviour of healthcare providers towards virtual therapy, a large number of financial and legal issues were successfully addressed. These barriers were totally removed in 2020, which resulted in several major medical care centers to invest heavily in telepsychology as an emergency response. Apart from these changes, therapists now get reimbursement for telemedicine consultation at the same rates as in-person billing. The US department of health further allowed the use of apps like Zoom, Skype etc, while several states loosened restrictions for those therapists who operated in other states to treat a patient in their state.
Telepsychology is here to stay, and it is better for us to adopt it rather than resist it.The pandemic has forced a dramatic shift in how psychiatrists deliver online health care. While some have raised concerns over the quality of such tools, the transition, by and large, has been largely positive and beneficial for both doctors and patients.