Traditional psychotherapy vs Online psychotherapy. About 10 or 15 years ago, the dynamics of a psychological therapy consisted of establishing a day for the face-to-face session, attending on time and dealing with the topic or topics in a specified time. At the end of the session, you went home, school or work, you tried to strive in the world-beyond-therapy and you tried to put into practice how little or much you took away from the couch.
If you had any concerns during the subsequent days, you had to wait until the next appointment to address it, as some psychotherapists did not always have availability for “extra-session appointments”. In addition, you should have been “able to have containment and / or respect the established agenda since you-were-not-the-only-person-who-they-attended.”
If you had initiative, you wrote down absolutely everything (like an “extracurricular task” that only some psychotherapists ask for) to clarify the concerns and perhaps, speed up the development of the session. In general, you attended a certain specialist on the recommendation of a third party and there was no way of knowing in advance whether or not there would be empathy. You confirmed that after several sessions charged to your bank account.
If the therapist was near your house, you were a lucky person, otherwise you had to commute across the city; If you did not arrive due to traffic or some other inconvenience, you had to reschedule and you were left without a session that week.
Digital jump in slow motion
Specialists, clinics and universities that provide psychotherapy, little by little launched their web pages (if they did not already have one), or added that service to their existing page. Some incorporated a chat service, telephone assistance for emergencies and later, sessions via Skype, especially foreign psychologists.
When using digital chat, it was noticeable that the tone of the conversation was not very warm, rather it served as a prelude to schedule face-to-face psychotherapies. The telephone service was similar: you called, they listened to you, they gave some follow-up, which consisted of you calling again at a certain day and time and also, they invited you to take face-to-face therapy.
There were also “chat rooms” where users gave each other support and could read a cascade of kind messages that motivated them and suggested they go to a psychologist.
Terms like “cyber therapy”, “teletherapy” began to have relevance; some specialists quickly found the benefits of the application of Information Technology to Psychology. Other therapists refused the idea, arguing that “there is a need for face-to-face interaction between patient-therapist”, since there are languages, such as body language, that are not detected through electronic devices.
As for people, if you wanted to delve into what was happening to you or what helped you detect psychotherapy, you would look for information on other pages with more of an academic nature. If bad luck found you, you had dozens of self-help or self-improvement websites in front of you (in fact, I don’t like that kind of topic, but that’s another story).
Suddenly, the search for articles or books became the activity-between-psychotherapy-sessions. You were searching, reading articles or books, although you realized that there was a distance between said text and you: of course! It was not a personalized and / or focused article. If you were obsessed with the subject, you investigated more and more, until you reached a point where you wanted to take a diploma or do a graduate degree. XD
Face-to-face psychotherapy was generating other types of needs and concerns that could not be solved. Perhaps, there were (are) people who, by attending one or two therapy sessions, had enough. But there were other people who did not, and perceived a certain gap in the satisfaction of their therapeutic needs.
The pandemic hit the gas
When the use of WhatsApp began to go global, some therapists opened this communication channel “in case of emergency”, although with limited use, while the next therapy session arrived.
Since 5 years ago the presence of psychologists in social networks and web pages has become more noticeable, although the levels of this presence have been different from one therapist to another. That is, there are some specialists whose consistency in their positioning is not very constant and others who have ventured to use more tools and platforms. It is clear who have chosen to hire the services of a digital marketing agency and who have taken their first steps little by little.
Then … came the pandemic and with it, gales. Undoubtedly, it accelerated the leap towards the digital presence and is posing a huge adaptation and subsistence challenge for professionals who provide services with face-to-face interaction, among them psychologists.
What is happening right now?
Turns out, we went into eternal quarantine. Direct psychotherapist-patient care is not feasible. However, the need for psychological support persists. Rates of anxiety, depression and stress are on the rise. It is on record that before the pandemic 14.3% of Mexicans suffered from anxiety disorders; 50% of the disorders present before the age of 25.
The pandemic is impacting the mental health of the world population and the full impact is still in the process of being known. The Emotional Support Services Network for COVID-19, the Life Line and the IMSS guidance line reported that they provided services to more than 80 thousand requests for mental health care between March 23 and June 16 2020.
On the other hand, people have a lack of knowledge and deep-rooted stigmas about mental health issues and there are even people who live with conditions without knowing it, and as a consequence without receiving any treatment.
There is another flip side to all this: there are people who are interested in receiving care, but don’t know where to start, or those who have already received psychotherapy and are eager to go deeper. These people are ready to experience online therapy. Little by little they have broken paradigms, even before the therapists themselves realized the importance of expanding the ways of offering their services.
Areas of opportunity, pros and cons
Psychotherapists are diversifying the way they provide their services: with videos on YouTube, podcasts on Spotify or SoundCloud, Webinars, Facebook or Instagram live, blogs, video calls by Zoom or some other platform, infographics, stories on Instagram, Apps, among others. Many are free and others are paid, such as workshops or personalized therapies. In addition, they have structured programs that address specific conditions such as anxiety disorders.
Here is a very important aspect: I mentioned that if you were interested in a topic related to psychotherapy and you researched it, you found yourself with fragmented information and you had to use your methodological skills to unravel what you wanted. Currently, the digital materials of various psychologists have “their signature stamp” and facilitate the task of delving into a topic.
I have found a group of specialists who specifically offer solutions for anxiety disorders and maintain a constant and consolidated interaction through their website and social networks: https://www.desansiedad.com/
Among the benefits of online psychotherapy are:
- You no longer have to wait until the session to resolve a concern.
- You have your “go-to psychologist” with you.
- You don’t feel “thrown” into the world-beyond-therapy.
- You can check the videos or podcasts multiple times. This is very helpful. It so happens that previously, when you had a face-to-face session, the kind that would illuminate you and you wanted to write down significant phrases, it was not always possible.
- Therapeutic care has become more flexible thanks to the use of these digital resources.
- The management of different platforms makes psychotherapeutic care dynamic.
- The non-face-to-face presence offers greater confidentiality and openness, since the person may feel less embarrassed when revealing what is happening to them.
- It facilitates the breaking of stigmas and paradigms, it fosters a more receptive mind to solve the illnesses and people become familiar with the importance of mental health.
Among the cons are:
- Body language and other non-verbal signs cannot be considered and could make analysis difficult for the therapist.
- It makes it difficult to evaluate the quality of the patient-psychologist therapeutic relationship.
- You necessarily require an Internet connection and technological devices.
- Both psychologists and people are in the process of learning and adapting digital resources to therapy.
- The attention by chat or telephone is modifying (or should modify) the attention it provides, towards a more empathic one.
- Therapists are in the constant search to transmit to people “virtual empathy” in each digital tool, to avoid psychotherapy having a depersonalized atmosphere.
- Constant training and updating is important, not only in psychology matters, but also in the appropriate handling of information; make the privacy policies known to patients.
- Psychotherapists are admitting that they also need help and support in their digital positioning and are requesting the professional services of digital marketing agencies.
- The positive effects of digital psychotherapy are in the process of being known, although it is a fact that we are witnessing new ways of providing psychological care.
Online psychotherapy does not exclude face-to-face sessions nor does it mean an invitation to leave them. It is possible that when the lockdown ends, we will return to face-to-face therapies. Meanwhile, digital tools are becoming very important support and making people feel that they are not alone in the challenges they face.
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Isabel Romero is Content Editor at Mijo! Brands. Originally from Mexico City, she got a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin American Studies from the School of Philosophy and Letters, and another Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Accounting from the Accounting and Administration School at the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
For several decades, she has combined her work and academic activities with music in the underground field. Thanks to literature and cinema, she has been able to identify and develop different voices and approaches that, with the pragmatic influence of numbers, facilitates her landing it on paper.
In these times of liquid modernity, she considers the integral formation of the human being to be a challenge, according to the needs demanded by its context. She believes that we must solve, every so often, the overwhelming assembly of pieces that make up the Being. Of course, not before filling with food the plates of her copious clan of adopted puppies.