The world has changed. Day-to-day activities such as paying bills, working, studying, shopping, communicating with family or a co-worker no longer need to be done in person. The technology allows each of these activities to be done by the computer or via smartphones. Wi-fi networks enable interactions between people and groups anytime, anywhere in the world. Thus, the digital world of services also reaches the area of therapeutic treatments of mental health disorders through telepsychology. According to the American Psychological Association, telepsychology is defined as the “provision of behavioral and/or mental health care services using technological modalities.” This means that psychological assistance can occur through webcams, mobile apps, chats, emails, or phones.
In this new type of service, psychologists and patients schedule virtual meetings that take place in front of a computer, tablet, or cell phone screen. Even from a distance, the psychologist can observe facial expressions, voice intonations, and emotional conflicts presented by the patient during the sessions. Depending on the type of disorder and conflict, the sessions can still be complemented via chat or cell phone, as is my case.
I have been doing sessions with a psychoanalyst since 2017. Yes, it is possible to do psychoanalysis over the internet. Even when I’m traveling, I still have my sessions once a week, using my smartphone. In case of unforeseen circumstances, I exchange messages with my therapist via WhatsApp, and for me, the ease of communication is the main advantage of telepsychology. Besides, the client or patient doesn’t have to worry about geographical distance, schedules, stigma, or mobility difficulties. Everything is very flexible in this new approach to treatment.
The first step in choosing online psychotherapy is to find out if the therapist is a licensed mental health professional. The amount of experience also counts when choosing a good therapist. When it comes to online care, training in how to provide web therapy is crucial for the effectiveness of the treatment.
The speed of service is another attraction offered by telepsychology. The patient does not need to wait for hours to be seen, as in the case of face-to-face therapy. Through mobile applications, it is possible to quickly connect with a psychologist and receive care.
To obtain good results in the therapeutic process, it is necessary that the patient feel safe and confident with the psychologist. If this is not possible, some telepsychology services offer the client the option of choosing a new therapist. The process is quick and practical, with just a few button clicks.
Let’s give a brief overview of other ways that technology is used to support and facilitate mental health interventions:
Talkspace: is a website that offers online therapy in which a person can send the therapist text and audio messages, as well as pictures and video messages in a private, text-based chat room. This web service matches you with one of the thousands of licensed, verified, and background-checked therapists who participate in Talkspace. The service uses evidence-based approaches such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and is provided via unlimited texting with therapists responding to clients once or twice per day.
Sparx: is an online therapy designed for young people aged 12-19 with symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety. It uses a game as a self-help tool, which teaches young people how to deal with negative thoughts and feelings, problem-solving, and social skills, using the talking psychotherapeutic approach of CBT. Before starting the game, it is recommended to take a mood quiz to check if Sparx is suitable for the person.
Virtual Reality Therapy: this is a new approach to psychological treatment to combat phobias and post-traumatic stress (PTS). With the help of virtual reality glasses, patients are exposed to the situations they fear the most, such as fear of heights, cockroaches, public speaking, war fights, etc. Therapy is done in stages and with monitoring of the patient’s reactions.
Woebot: developed by psychologists at Stanford University, Woebot is a self-help application in which a computer program communicates with people, asking how they are feeling and what is going on in their lives. The psychological approach used in the software is CBT, which deals with distortions of thinking and negative beliefs. Woebot can also send tips and videos on issues that the person is currently experiencing.
Ellie the Virtual Interviewer: Ellie is a robot therapist created by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies. In a caring and empathetic way, Ellie interacts with patients through questions that may reveal signs of depression or post-traumatic stress. As the person answers the questions, Ellie analyzes characteristics such as body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. The technology is called Multisense and does not replace a real therapist, but it can assist the mental health professional in identifying depression in patients.
Anxiety Coach App: Mayo Clinic developed a self-help application to help users reduce stress, fear, and anxiety. The tool has a series of exercises to combat anxiety, in which users can monitor themselves in real-time through a progress tracker. The psychotherapeutic approach used in the program is CBT. The Mayo Clinic Anxiety Coach app also has tools that help a person recognize when anxiety requires the attention of a specialized professional.
Openmind360: designed by Tom Mittlemans, Openmind 360 is a psychoeducational program created for young people aged 14-18, to reduce stigma about mental health, encouraging young people to ask for medical help when necessary. Adolescents participate in workshops using technological virtual reality as a tool, in which it is possible to experience places and situations related to their situation, such as identifying emotional conflicts or helping a friend in mental distress. In addition, during the workshops, young people have the opportunity to talk about anxieties, fears, and emotional problems.
As we can see, for each type of problem or psychological disorder, it is possible to find programs or apps that can contribute to the improvement of mental health care.
More than an option, telepsychology and the therapeutic use of new technologies is a reality in a society more and more digitized. However, apps and computerized therapies cannot replace the services of a mental health specialist. They can best be used as a complement to the progress of the therapeutic work.
About the Author: Daniela Silva is a Brazilian educator and independent writer. She holds a BA in Pedagogy with concentrations in School Management and Business Education, an MBA in Personnel Management, and a postgraduate certificate in Neuroeducation. Working with social projects in the area of e-learning and people development since 2009, Ms. Silva is a regular contributor to several educational websites, writing about teaching practices in the classroom; emotions and learning; evaluation and school planning; learning disorders; homeschooling, child brain development, parenting, Montessori education, andragogy, and people training. Working in collaboration with The New Heights Educational Group, Inc., she has just published Unraveling Reading, a book on literacy education and learning disabilities in reading and writing. In addition, Mrs. Silva has her academic monograph, “Developing the creative potential of children by stimulating the window of opportunities,” published by MoreBooks.
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