What Is E-Therapy?
During the COVID-19 crisis, we have all had to adjust and be flexible in ways many of us were surprising and challenging. Specifically, social distancing was identified as part of the universal quarantine strategy, which drastically increased the need for remote communication in all aspects of our lives, including healthcare services.
At the same time, the demand for technology-mediated service have significantly increased, emerging as the choice of delivery method for a variety of treatment services. In the mental health field, e-therapy is defined as the process of a licensed mental healthcare professional providing mental health services via e-mail, video conferencing, virtual reality technology, chat technology, or any combination of these.
The Bias Against Tele-health Services
Despite its increasing demand and consumption, there is ongoing debate around e-therapy’s efficacy and its performance compared to traditional face-to-face therapy. Even with more reports pointing to its cost efficiency and clinical effectiveness, there is still uncertainty about its effectiveness as a treatment delivery method in mental health services. Clients are still skeptical about e-therapy because it is unknown.
Aside from clients’ skepticism, another significant challenge apparent throughout research on the subject is the clinician’s or provider’s bias against this particular mode of therapy. More specifically, a key factor influencing the reservations of mental health providers to engage in e-therapy is the potential interruption to properly establishing a therapeutic alliance with their clients.
Do we need to choose between E-Therapy or In-Person Therapy?
The bottom line is that there is a place in society for both traditional counseling and e-therapy. The verdict on whether tele-health is better than in-person treatment is not the most helpful question to ask today. Pitting the two types of therapy against one another may only elicit more division among providers, creating different camps with different interests. This lack of cohesion only creates further confusion and distress for clients and those most in need of help.
Instead, we should channel our efforts into further finding ways to identify the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches. Therefore, the bigger question becomes: how can this new medium be best utilized for health services in the most fitting way today?
The Strengths and Shortcomings of E-Therapy
Many say that the most concerning weakness is the presence and rapport issue in e-therapy. However, my experience is that the impact and function of therapeutic rapport and presence during the time of the pandemic are very different from what they were pre-pandemic.
Considering the circumstances, many people will be more likely to accept the idea of tele-health, especially when it is deemed to be one of the more viable options for treatment. For many therapists, tele-health allowed for an easy switchover, enabling them to continue supporting their existing clients with the least amount of interruptions. Such flexible accessibility is one of the biggest strengths of tele-health.
In addition, tele-health has been historically noted for its ability to improve patient-centered care because the session is brought to the client instead of the client having to go to an office to receive services. It is just more convenient, with the client being able to enter treatment while remaining in the comfort of their own home. With the increased anxiety surrounding COVID-19, ensuring clients are able to receive services, where it is most secure and convenient, is sounds like an added benefit!
Come on In – the Waters is Fine: the Strengths and Shortcomings of E-Therapy
While e-therapy and traditional counseling are often considered to be at odds with one another, therapists should consider the strengths of each delivery method to offer the highest-quality care possible to you. E-therapy improves ease of access to mental health services, cutting down on common deterrents to treatment, including scheduling and transportation conflicts as well as time spent commuting to the provider’s office.
Considering the present state of the world, e-therapy also adds another layer of safety by reducing in-person contact while still allowing at-risk individuals to connect with additional sources of support.
For these reasons, e-therapy is a practical option for treatment and will continue to be as society navigates this “new normal.”