Pandemic forces psychological well being care staff to embrace on-line remedy

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Until recently, online therapy was too far a bridge for many mental health practitioners. But then came COVID-19. Since psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists could no longer treat their clients personally, they switched to online video platforms en masse. In many cases it turned out that it worked better than expected, according to new research from the Technical University of Eindhoven. Among other things, many therapists have a positive view of the effectiveness of the therapy, the flexibility experienced, the lower contact threshold and the lack of travel time. But there are downsides too, and online therapy doesn’t work for everyone.

In the last few decades, more and more tools for remote therapy have been developed. Previous research has shown that this online form of treatment – also known as eMental Health – is on average just as effective as personal treatment, despite the distance between doctor and client.

Even so, many therapists have been very reluctant to use these instruments. “They are afraid of technical problems and fear that the virtual contact will affect the quality of the treatment,” says Dr. Milou Feijt. Student in the Human Technology Interaction research group and one of the researchers. “Practitioners also often feel that these tools are being imposed on them by insurers or management in order to save costs.”

Video conferencing

In March, when the pandemic made any personal contact with customers impossible, practitioners switched en masse to video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Skype or to secure applications on online platforms. “A unique experiment,” says Feijt. “Due to the exceptional situation, the therapists had to gain experience with online therapy. For the first time, they were able to explicitly state what went well and what did not and what their most important needs when using eMental were health.”

From April 1st, about two weeks after the Netherlands imposed their so-called intelligent ban, Feijt and her colleagues asked a representative group of 51 Dutch therapists about their experiences and the consequences of virtual contact for themselves and their clients. Due to the pandemic, the research had to be done via online questionnaires.

Participants reported a number of benefits of working online. For example, the sessions were often more efficient because both she and her clients spent less time traveling and the conversations were more focused. The low threshold of video calls also enabled more frequent, shorter contact moments, which improved the therapeutic relationship. According to the practitioners, their clients were mostly positive about the experience. Some of them even benefited from distance therapy because they felt less inhibited to express themselves.

Challenges

Of course there were also challenges. Many of the problems were technical in nature, such as a stalled internet connection, and others were related to practitioners having to interact with clients through a screen. As a result, important non-verbal signals such as posture, hand movements and smell were missing. This made it more difficult to adjust to their customers, especially in very emotional conversations or crisis situations.

Online therapy was also found to be less suitable for treating trauma and for people with psychotic or social anxiety symptoms. Sessions with children and groups also work less well in an online environment.

Mixed care

According to Feijt, it is important that the technical problems are solved if eMental Health is to be a real success in the long term. The researcher is also looking for ways to improve the mediated interaction between therapists and clients. Think of technical solutions that compensate for the lack of non-verbal communication, such as: B. Sensors on the fingers that give the therapist information about the emotional state of the client.

In the meantime, Feijt and her colleagues have started an additional study among a larger group of therapists. “The sudden and massive switch to online therapy offers us the unique opportunity to see how we can further improve eMental Health. Of course we must not miss it!”

The researcher does not believe that in the future, once the pandemic is over, all therapists will continue to zoom or Skype. “We believe in blended care, which uses both personal and online elements depending on the needs and the situation.”

Online therapy has its moment and provides insights into the future expansion of psychiatric care

More information:
Milou Feijt et al. Psychiatric Care Goes Online: Practitioners’ Experiences with Mental Health Care Delivery During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Cyber ​​Psychology, Behavior, and Social Networking (2020). DOI: 10.1089 / cyber.2020.0370 Provided by the Eindhoven University of Technology

Quote: The pandemic is forcing mental health workers to use online therapy (2020, October 12), which will be available on October 12, 2020 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2020-10-pandemic-mental-health-workers -embrace.html was obtained

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