PROS AND CONS TO A TECH-BASED COUNSELING APPROACH
More than just physical health has been crippled during the current COVID-19 pandemic—mental health has taken a huge hit as well. Usual support systems and counseling services have been put on hold, and many more people than just last year are finding that it is necessary to have a therapist to work through the emotional gymnastics of 2020. Whether it’s loneliness from social isolation, stress and anxiety about ever-changing guidelines, or simply being overwhelmed with the sheer number of disaster-level events that have gone on in the last nine months, mental health has been greatly affected.
In the “age of Zoom,” “tele-therapy” or “e-therapy” has become the norm and could well become a permanent alternative. In May, a survey of American Psychiatric Association members revealed that the percentage of psychiatrists using tele-therapy more than 76% of the time has soared from just 2.1% before the pandemic to 84.7% now, according to a Time magazine article. While this is mostly out of necessity due to lockdown, tele-therapy may continue at a similarly high level even when it’s safe to leave home.
Tele-therapy is a wonderful tool in many respects. Having virtual options for counseling services allows access to people who wouldn’t ordinarily have it, due to distance, time, or inadequate transportation. All it requires is an internet connection. It also allows you to stay in your home where you might feel more comfortable than in an office. Or, you can even take it with you and do it on the go. It can also be a cheaper alternative to in-person therapy. There are also many versions of tele-therapy—video calls, phone calls, even instant messaging Insider says—so that people can approach it in many different ways based on their comfort level and access level.
However, as this Very Well Mind article points out, drawbacks abound as well. Due to the pandemic, these services may be temporarily covered by insurance, but coverage may go away when it’s over. A lot of non-verbal communication cues are lost as well. Body language, tone of voice, and eye contact are all observational clues used by therapists to get a read on patients and determine how best to proceed. Some diagnoses, such as chronic anxiety or PTSD, lend themselves better to an online format, while others, like addiction treatment, are more necessary to be in person. There’s also the worry about technology failing: dropped calls, internet going out, lag time, to name a few. It is often very impersonal—especially in cases with instant messaging, which are sometimes completely anonymous. And while the thought of anonymity may be comforting to patients, it can come at the cost of potential fraud (Psychology Today). This also becomes a concern for patients’ personal information.
Psychology Today sites a handful of studies that have shown that in many cases, online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. This, of course, has its limits to certain diagnoses, where others benefit more from face-to-face counseling, but overall, tele-therapy is an amazing tool. Having this alternative available to people is fantastic.
Here is a list of the best online therapy providers, compiled by Insider:
- For all-around mental health support: BetterHelp
- For a comfortable therapy environment: TalkSpace
- For unlimited therapist access: iCounseling
- For a comprehensive therapy approach: Online-Therapy.com
- For easy app-based access: Ginger
- For partner counseling: ReGain
- For support for teenagers: TeenCounseling
If you are struggling with mental health, during this time or any time, please look into getting help. And, if you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a professional counselor.