Online Therapy: A New Frontier?

A study recently showed that online therapy may be just as useful as therapy done face-to-face.

The idea of online therapy is not a new one. People have thought about it for years. However, there has always been concern that providing therapy in this way is less personable, and therefore, less effective. Because it is not providing the client the best chances of treatment, it has been seen as ineffective—even unethical.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Universities of Zurich and Leipzig, shows that online therapy might even be more effective over the long-term.

Researchers used the same methods for treating depression online that they would use in face-to-face therapy sessions, and found that both groups were equal in their satisfaction of their treatment. However, 50% of those treated in-person could no longer be diagnosed as depressed, versus 53% of those using the Internet.

Those receiving treatment via the web did not participate in any sort of video chat during the course of their treatment.

After a three-month period, the effects of online therapy continued to improve, with 57% no longer being diagnosed as depressed, versus 42% of those who received conventional treatment.

The study suggests that the reason for this is that Internet model puts more responsibility in the hands of the patients, and less in the therapists’.

So this is great, right? It is easier to do, more private, the effects are longer lasting…why would anyone do it the conventional way?

The thing is, online therapy is not without its problems. Patients were far more likely to drop out of therapy, at a ratio of seven to two, which the researchers attributed to the anonymous nature of the web.

Being face-to-face with someone—even once—establishes a relationship with another person. That relationship can help motivate patients to continue with their treatment at the most critical moments: the times they want to give up.

That could work both ways, though, as many who are suffering from a severe depressive episode may want help, but cannot bring themselves to leave their residence to make their appointment.

Although this was not described in the study, the likelihood of dropping out indicates that the decision may have been based on an impulse, rather than a commitment to receiving help. If a genuine commitment is made to improving one’s life, then it most likely does not matter how that treatment is delivered.

It could also be that by being in front of the computer anyways, a client may be more inclined to do their assignments right after an online therapy session. Actually doing the assignments would, of course, result in a higher success rate.

All of this is circumstantial, but the study itself suggests that using the web for therapy sessions may become far more commonplace, and a part of any therapist’s tool belt. It also means that those who have clients or therapists far from home may still benefit from continuing the relationship, and therefore their paths to recovery as well.

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