chaplains, chaplancy, mental-health, pastoral care, psychologists, psychology, spiritual care, technology, therapists, therapy
The following is a general discussion of the uses of technology in providing distance therapy. I think much of what the author has to offer is valuable as a point of discussion, though as I have been doing research on the same subject, I am not as cautious as she is with the value of distance therapy.
With advances in technology, distance learning on college campuses has exploded over the last decade. And as time passes, the mental health community is taking note.
Students want to study when they want and how they want. Distance learning makes education available to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get off of work, travel to class or spend hours in lectures.
That same increase in convenience and availability could have a real impact for people seeking psychological treatment. Is distance treatment ready to take off?
People who must maintain jobs, care for children or aging parents, don’t have cars or access to public transportation or want to learn material that is not offered where they live can all benefit from distance learning. These are often the same reasons people struggle to access mental health services.
And there is a large body of research that suggests distance learning and traditional classroom learning provide the same quality of education. Distance learning is no longer considered a sub-standard educational option.
So, how can these benefits apply to receiving psychological treatment?
Treatment available online or at a distance could certainly help people with difficulties in getting to therapy sessions and incorporating treatment into a busy lifestyle. It would also enable people to access specific treatment modalities not otherwise available to them.
And, according to the American Psychological Association, psychologists have begun using electronic communication such as email, Skype and various forms of videoconferencing to augment treatment. But, while technology surges ahead, licensing laws and guidelines for providing safe and ethical distance treatment are still catching up.
A recent article reporting on the use of phone therapy in Monitor on Psychology suggests that talking on the phone with a therapist can provide the same, or even better, results for some.
In this study, conducted by University of Cambridge researchers, British adults with mild and moderate depression and anxiety disorders who received cognitive behavioral-based therapy via the phone benefited as much, if not more, than those who received face-to-face therapy. Those with severe symptoms did not see the same results.
This study also found that telephone therapy was less expensive than traditional therapy and was conducted as part of a national initiative in Britain aimed at increasing people’s access to therapy.
The telephone is only one of many options for providing distance treatment. The number of mental health tools available is rapidly increasing. And many in the field agree that it’s time for practitioners to embrace technology and what it has to offer in delivering interventions.
One-on-one treatment cannot be replaced. Nor should it. However, the need for treatment providers to meet the changing and growing mental health needs of the population has caused the ΑΡΑ Insurance Trust and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards to launch a task force to develop guidelines for tele-psychology practice.
So what are some of the alternatives to one-on-one therapy? According to a cover story in the APA Monitor they include the following:
- Behavioral intervention technologies, such as those that deliver care via the Internet or mobile phones
- Computer programs for depression and other disorders, which typically teach principles of cognitιve-behavioral therapy or some other evidence-based treatment
Although these treatment options are appealing and there is a growing body of research to suggest that many are effective, it is important to proceed with caution. It is essential to ensure that individuals get the right treatment and that treatments offered have been studied and found effective.
I thoroughly agree that the treatment must be individualized with the client. If distance therapy would benefit the client then there should be full support for this modality. With the ubiquitous video cameras in smartphones, smart tvs, video gaming systems, tablets, laptops, and desktops, the video therapy is a superb choice for the busy lifestyle of today. The treatment, of course, must be empirically validated but a licensed professional (counselor, social worker, psychologist, marriage family therapist, etc…) is used to providing up to date interventions that work appropriately with the client. With the ever changing technology, the means to have user interface will only increase with the use of the internet and changes can be immediate with a major reduction in practitioner and client cost (i.e. printing, writing utensils, travel expenses, time off work, time away from family, etc…). Hopefully the insurance companies and licensing boards will give their nod to this worthwhile service. It’s all about client care, right? If the boards highly recommend, if not mandate, evening hours to make services available to all who desire services then distance therapy would meet these needs. Distance therapy would also improve safety for the practitioners and clients as evening hours, in some locations, can be very dangerous. The therapy could take place in the saftey of the practitioner and client’s own four walls.