Do you feel the need to talk about your problems, want to complain need advice but do not want to look for a psychologist or go to meetings? Are you ashamed, afraid, you don’t have time and big money for consultations? Perhaps the right solution will be online therapy.
Online psychological help boils down to communication via the Internet, which can be synchronous (patient and therapist exchange messages at the same time, e.g. during a chat, video conference or conversation) or asynchronous (the answer to a given question or problem comes after some time, e.g. in e-mail correspondence or online forum).
The first type is usually associated with e-therapy(a term introduced by John Grohol, 1997), the second with advice on mental health (psychotherapists answer in-depth to one question). Like traditional therapy, e-therapy is based on establishing an in-depth relationship with someone who is trained for psychological help.
The e-therapist is working on creating a “therapeutic alliance” by getting to know the patient and working with him on defined problems, goals and challenges. Online psychological therapy allows the use of the same tools that therapists use during traditional face-to-face consultations. For most analyzes, studies do not show differences in the effectiveness of online therapy and in-room offices. Some experiments show even better results of online psychotherapy, obtained for example in the treatment of depressive disorders (Ainsworth 2000).
History of online psychotherapy
Online psychological help is a relatively new field, rooted in the beginnings of the Internet itself. The first attempts to use a computer network for psychotherapy were made in the 1970s. In October 1972, the first simulated psychotherapeutic session in the United States, at the International Conference on Computer Communications, was demonstrated via a computer connection between Stanford and UCLA.
Along with the proliferation of personal computers and the Internet, the 1980s saw the rapid development of informal self-help groups based on discussion groups. It was quickly recognized that these types of groups create a friendly environment for people who require emotional support in crises. In the mid-90s, organizations began providing mass psychological counseling for a small fee.
The precursor of e-therapy is David Sommerfeld, who was one of the first to use internet tools to establish a longer (than one advice) and deeper therapeutic relationship with the patient. In the years 1995–1998 he worked in this way with over 300 people. The subsequent appearance of commercial “e-clinics”, bringing together many therapists and providing them with online tools to support this type of activity, marked the significant development of e-therapy.
To regulate the rapidly developing new area of psychological services, it was established in 1997. International Society for Mental Health Online (or ISMHO). The purpose of his activity is in. setting standards for online help, integrating the e-therapists environment and conducting research projects on e-therapy, including its effectiveness.
Advantages of online psychotherapy
Mental disorders concern a quarter of society. The number of people who need therapy is constantly increasing. However, a long queue of patients is waiting for meetings refunded by the National Health Fund, while private therapy is associated with costs that exceed the financial capabilities of many patients. Added to this are travel costs and meeting times, which are often difficult to reconcile with daily responsibilities.
Among the many advantages of online therapy, the most common are:
- Possibility to use the help of specialists without leaving home
- Save time on commuting
- Possibility to set a convenient date
- Access to the therapist for people from smaller towns or having difficulty leaving the home
- Discretion, the ability to keep it secret from the environment
- Short waiting time for the appointment
- Writing about your difficulties has healing properties (Murphy and Mitchell 1998)
- Possibility of using help for people staying abroad
- Opportunity to work together with a person currently residing in another country, e.g. you and your partner want to work with your therapist on your relationship, but you are currently in distant cities or countries
- Online contact may be the only way to consult a specialist for some rare disease entity
Financial issues – e-therapy is usually much cheaper
Of course, online therapy is not for everyone. Customers with more severe disorders and addictions will need other types of support. E-therapy is also not intended for people who are in a serious crisis. There are other, better ways to get immediate help in emergencies.
To sum up, e-therapy is a dynamic and effective field of psychological services. It is such a young discipline that its potential has certainly not yet been discovered, although it has been discovered enough to ignore the arguments for this type of psychological help and still defend the monopoly of the traditional approach (face-to-face therapy). The data seems to suggest that many people who are interested in contacting a therapist on the Internet do so because traditional psychotherapy is not available to them. The second most common cause is a shame – many people are too embarrassed to contact a psychotherapist personally