With advances in technology, distance learning on college campuses has exploded over the last decade. And as time passes, the mental health community is taking note.
Students want to study when they want and how they want. Distance learning makes education available to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get off of work, travel to class or spend hours in lectures.
That same increase in convenience and availability could have a real impact for people seeking psychological treatment. Is distance treatment ready to take off?
People who must maintain jobs, care for children or aging parents, don’t have cars or access to public transportation or want to learn material that is not offered where they live can all benefit from distance learning. These are often the same reasons people struggle to access mental health services.
And there is a large body of research that suggests distance learning and traditional classroom learning provide the same quality of education. Distance learning is no longer considered a sub-standard educational option.
So, how can these benefits apply to receiving psychological treatment?
Treatment available online or at a distance could certainly help people with difficulties in getting to therapy sessions and incorporating treatment into a busy lifestyle. It would also enable people to access specific treatment modalities not otherwise available to them.
And, according to the American Psychological Association, psychologists have begun using electronic communication such as email, Skype and various forms of videoconferencing to augment treatment. But, while technology surges ahead, licensing laws and guidelines for providing safe and ethical distance treatment are still catching up.
A recent article reporting on the use of phone therapy in Monitor on Psychology suggests that talking on the phone with a therapist can provide the same, or even better, results for some.
In this study, conducted by University of Cambridge researchers, British adults with mild and moderate depression and anxiety disorders who received cognitive behavioral-based therapy via the phone benefited as much, if not more, than those who received face-to-face therapy. Those with severe symptoms did not see the same results.
This study also found that telephone therapy was less expensive than traditional therapy and was conducted as part of a national initiative in Britain aimed at increasing people’s access to therapy.
The telephone is only one of many options for providing distance treatment. The number of mental health tools available is rapidly increasing. And many in the field agree that it’s time for practitioners to embrace technology and what it has to offer in delivering interventions.
One-on-one treatment cannot be replaced. Nor should it. However, the need for treatment providers to meet the changing and growing mental health needs of the population has caused the ΑΡΑ Insurance Trust and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards to launch a task force to develop guidelines for tele-psychology practice.
So what are some of the alternatives to one-on-one therapy? According to a cover story in the APA Monitor they include the following:
- Behavioral intervention technologies, such as those that deliver care via the Internet or mobile phones
- Computer programs for depression and other disorders, which typically teach principles of cognitιve-behavioral therapy or some other evidence-based treatment
Although these treatment options are appealing and there is a growing body of research to suggest that many are effective, it is important to proceed with caution. It is essential to ensure that individuals get the right treatment and that treatments offered have been studied and found effective.