In the digital information age, sometimes help is on the Internet.
Mental health problems affect millions of Americans every day. It's estimated that the current number of people suffering from a diagnosable mental health problem is in the realm of 20 percent or more, making mental health one of the greatest threats to living a quality life in today's world.
Unfortunately, the rising cost of healthcare and the cutting of benefits nationwide has left most of those people without any assistance at all, unable to get the help they need. It's possible that the lack of affordable mental health care may even be one of the reasons that alternative therapies with no scientific evidence have been able to thrive – without affordable, qualified mental health care practitioners available, people have had to turn to other unproven means.
Moving Therapy Online
Recently an effort has been made to try to make mental health care affordable. One such effort has involved taking pre-recorded therapeutic practices and trainings, and moving them online. These services, dubbed "eTherapy," take the basics of cognitive behavioral and psychodynamic theory, and put them in an easy to access format. They have several potential benefits for those suffering from mental health problems, including:
· Instant Access – Even if psychiatric care was affordable, many people are afraid to see a therapist or delay meeting their health care needs. Online therapies can be accessed by anyone from anywhere, so those that need to seek treatment can do so immediately and from the comfort of their own home.
· Low Cost – The main draw of these services is the potential to save money on overall mental healthcare costs. While the online programs aren't completely inexpensive, they are far lower an overall cost than going to see a therapist regularly.
· Promotes Honesty – Anyone that's ever read any blog or YouTube video comments knows that people are much more honest/candid thanks to the anonymity of the Internet (for better or worse). Those that don't feel comfortable opening up may find a program to be easier.
Some eTherapy systems also allow you to connect with a counselor on occasion, although those are much less common and increase the price. Still, there are clearly some benefits to these therapy programs, and research continues to try to find new ways to make this style of therapy work.
Weaknesses of eTherapy
Yet despite these benefits, eTherapy has numerous weaknesses that make it not necessarily ideal for modern use. Some of these weaknesses include:
· No Contact/Bond
The therapist/client relationship is an important one. The therapist provides social support that allows the client to move through their problems and talk about them freely. Without any contact with the therapist, the client may find it more difficult to recover.
· No Challenging Thoughts
Cognitive behavioral therapists – and to a lesser extent psychodynamic therapists – challenge their clients to help them change any negative thought patterns that may be causing their anxiety or stress or other mental illness. Without the therapist there, those thoughts can't be challenged.
· No Research
One of the reasons that therapy is such an effective technique for combating mental illness is because decades of research has gone into perfecting each technique. eTherapy and its equivalents have not been around long enough to undergo that level of scrutiny, so while there is some clinical evidence they can be beneficial, there are no long term outlook studies, no follow up research, and not enough data to conclude that this is an effective alternative to traditional treatments.
· No Accountability for the Patient
In addition, eTherapy doesn't give the patient an incentive to go or use the therapy method. Compare that to traditional therapy, where not only is there a financial reason to go (since patients are billed regardless) – there is also the natural human instinct to respond to expectations. It's probable that numerous eTherapy patients download the program and never use it again, wasting money without seeing any noticeable changes in their mental health.
· No Accountability for the Program
Therapists are held to a high standard, and while there are numerous psychologists that are terrible at their jobs, most can be expected to have considerable knowledge of therapeutic techniques and how to use them, otherwise they may lose their licenses. Those that create the programs aren't held to that high standard, and can easily be unqualified individuals simply looking to cash in on someone else's desperation.
There are also issues with confusion, since a client cannot clarify something with a computer. There may even be issues with ethics. Digital therapists are not necessarily able to respond should a client be suicidal or sharing illegal desires.
Overall, eTherapy represents hope for modern day mental health. Someday, eTherapy will provide countless individuals suffering from mental health issues the ability to cure or reduce their mental health problems without the high costs of a counselor. But while there may be some worthwhile eTherapy programs out there, that day has likely not yet come. Until ample research can be conducted to show the best possible eTherapy techniques for both the short and long term, digital psychiatric care is still nothing more than a dream.
Ryan Rivera successfully overcame bouts of anxiety through natural anxiety treatment methods. He now lives an anxiety-free life. Check out www.calmclinic.com for more information
(Brain cursor image via Shutterstock.)