Would you prefer to seek therapy for mental health issues online?
The article below appeared in the September 13 issue of Health with Perdana, a regular column in The Star by Perdana University faculty members. This week’s article is contributed by Darlina Hani Fadil Azim, and Dr. Dhanya Pillai, Clinical Psychologists, Perdana University Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland School of Medicine.
With the new normal, we have had to learn to do many basic things in quite different ways.
One of the main changes is learning to do most daily activities, such as shopping, attending meetings and having family gatherings, online.
Healthcare services have also moved online to reach out to both existing and new patients and clients.
People are now able to book medical appointments, attend consultations, and order and have their medications delivered, all with a few taps on one’s digital device.
Online therapy and counselling for mental health issues via email, phone, online chats or video calls, have also become popular in recent times.
Seeing a mental health professional such as a psychologist or counsellor is on the rise as more and more Malaysians understand and appreciate the importance of good mental health.
The opportunity to opt for online therapy offers many advantages for patients:
- Clients can undergo therapy in the comfort of their own home.
They can also choose a therapist who is outside their immediate geographical area, thus increasing their options of therapists.
It is also a convenient alternative for those in rural or remote areas, or with transportation difficulties.
- The timing of the sessions may be more convenient and flexible as therapists may offer their services outside of normal working hours or on weekends.
Apart from the traditional face-to-face sessions, there may also be options like asynchronous chatting, where the client and therapist need only respond when they are available online.
Most online therapy sessions cost less than face-to-face ones.
Clients are also able to save on travel and transportation costs.
- Less stigma
Online therapy is beneficial in reducing mental health stigma as clients can control their level of privacy during the session.
As they need not go to the clinic or health centre, the likelihood of people knowing they are receiving treatment is minimised.
For those concerned about others finding out they are seeking mental health treatment, this extra level of privacy might be the push factor for them in getting treatment.
Some online therapy providers allow clients to use nicknames, which can be helpful for those who prefer not to reveal their real names.
The anonymity that online therapy provides is also beneficial for individuals who are ambivalent about therapy and would like to try it out before committing to it.
Clients may also be more willing to share necessary private information in anonymity.
However, while online therapy may be a good option for many, there are challenges that need to be considered, such as:
- Technological difficulties
Disruptions such as unstable audio and visuals due to poor Internet connection are a hindrance in the delivery of online therapy.
Those who are less tech-savvy may also be apprehensive to try it.
Clients may have reservations about the safety and confidentiality of their private information online.
Appropriate online security and robust protocols must be in place to ensure that confidentiality is protected.
There may be a worry that without face-to-face interaction, important aspects like body language and tone of voice will be absent or misconstrued.
This may affect the therapeutic interaction between the client and therapist.
There is also the possibility that written text can be misinterpreted by either the therapist or client.
- Complex cases
- Online therapy may not be suitable for more complex issues like psychosis because it would be difficult for the therapist to intervene in the event of a crisis.
Despite these drawbacks, online therapy is still an effective method in providing mental health support for many clients.
Many studies have shown the effectiveness of online therapy in treating mood and anxiety disorders, insomnia, pain disorders and suicidal thoughts.
A 2018 study published in the Journal Of Anxiety Disorders found that online therapy is effective, acceptable and practical in treating anxiety and depression, and that it is as effective as face-to-face therapy.
Another 2018 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that online therapy was more effective than face-to-face therapy in improving mental health-related quality of life, mood and anxiety symptoms.
Online therapy has also been shown to be effective for the treatment and prevention of depression and anxiety relapses in young people.
With the advancement of technology and the ease at which most people are with their mobile phones, tablets and laptops, online therapy brings us another step closer to normalising mental healthcare, and ultimately removing the stigma of seeking help and guidance for mental health issues.
The availability of online therapy has also provided the much needed support for those needing help to manage and cope during this pandemic.