We can see the effects of this new paradigm already as a whole new field of professional coaching has gained exposure. These professionals view themselves as paid cheerleaders for the client, helping emphasize the positive aspects and resources in the individual’s life, and working with them on ways to improve social skills and resources. Therapists can adopt some of these positive components for their own practices, looking more to help guide their clients in an active role of discovery, insight, and change. Rather than being, as is often the case nowadays, the sole change agent in the client’s life, empowered providers will help clients make use of many different possible resources that are available to help them change. In this role, therapists will actually have less work to do because the client is taking on more of the work themselves, or the work is being spread out amongst a wider array of helping resources (such as online support groups, adjunctive e-therapy, and the client’s own online reading and journaling).
Professional’s paternalistic attitude toward their clients is often characterized by the argument, “My clients are too sick to know what’s best for them.” Indeed, when disorders such as major depression or schizophrenia are diagnosed, the client may often be in a state of mind where decisions about their own care do not come easily. Therapists don’t have to give up all rights to helping guide a client to the choices they believe will offer the best outcomes for their clients. By adopting a more open, flexible attitude toward treatment that incorporates many of the components discussed above, the therapist can help the client discover resources and give them a sense of wonder and empowerment from the experience. All too often, clients feel overwhelmed by their disorder, and feel very alone and misunderstood with their feelings. A simple suggestion for joining an online support group, for instance, could make a significant and noticeable difference in the client’s life.
Luckily, professionals are not alone in walking down this road to using email or other online resources to act as an empowered guide to their clients. MDNetGuide has an article10 on this topic and Daniel Sands, M.D. 11 has compiled an excellent Web site and written some excellent guidelines about doctor/patient email that should be read. Professionals who adopt their practices to this new generation of Internet-savvy patients will find their work often easier and perhaps more gratifying. The key to addressing the empowered client’s needs is not to cater unquestioningly to them, but to understand and help guide them through the multitude of choices.
1 Grohol, J.M. The insider’s guide to mental health resources online. New York: Guilford Publications, 2002.
2 American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author, 1994.
3 White, B.J. & Madara, E.J. (eds.) The Self-Help Sourcebook. Denville, NJ: American Self-Help Clearinghouse, 1998.
4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.
5 Kyrouz, E.M. & Humphreys, K. Research on self-help/mutual aid groups.
6 Ferguson, T. From doc-providers to coach-consultants: Type 1 versus Type 2 provider-patient relationships. The Ferguson Report: http:// fergusonreport.com/articles/tfr07-01.htm
7 Cascardo, D.C. Getting ready for the new generation of savvy patients. Medscape Money and Medicine 3(1), 2002: http:// www.medscape.com/viewarticle/436315
8 Unattributed. Patient/physician online communication: Many patients want it, would pay for it, and it would influence their choice of doctors and health plans. Harris Interactive Health Care News, 2(8), April 10, 2002.
9 Carrns, A. In effort to boost health-care quality, employers urge doctor visits by e-mail. Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2001: http:// online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB985304694351531170,00.htm
10 Unattributed. How to make online patient communication work for you. MD Net Guide Magazine, Primary Care Edition, 4(3), March, 2002: http:// www.mdnetguide.com/v4n3/pc_march/CoverStory_pc.shtml
11 Sands, D. Electronic Patient Centered Communication Resource Center: http:// www.e-pcc.org/