It is clear that the issue of using online technologies in the
treatment of mental health difficulties is becoming a heated topic
to debate. While some believe this revolution has immense benefits,
others are adamant that it causes more harm than good.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies recently conducted a
review of the effectiveness of online mental health technologies
aiming to assess the efficacy of technology in aiding mental health
counseling and dispute resolution. The review brought to light
certain benefits as well as challenges, depending on how and when
this avenue is used. For young people, it is still a major
advantage to reaching them on their level, which we will focus on
in another discussion.
What do you think? What are your experiences? Please include
your comments below.
Some of the benefits highlighted in the review
- Increased accessibility, for example, for rural and remote
persons (although limited by bandwidth and availability of
carriers), single or at-home parents, people with a disability, in
cases of fear of violence or intimidation, people with agoraphobia,
people who are relocating but want to work with the same therapist,
fast-pace lifestyles, unusual employment hours.
- When email is used, the written word may be expressive for
some, can think through and reflect on content before sending.
- Anonymity, privacy, convenience, often in comfort of own
- Disinhibition and internalisation, that is, core issues
addressed more quickly, matters expressed more freely.
- Enhanced self-reflection, in the case of asynchronous
communication. Can revisit treatment communications from therapists
in own time.
- Therapists can respond to specialist areas of concern,
regardless of geographical location.
- Available any time of day (where service models permit).
- May be particularly viable for computer-savvy young people and
- Allows clinician time to be freed up for others and reduces the
number of face-to-face sessions.
- Increased flexibility of services.
The main challenges that were highlighted
- Practical and technical concerns, for example, skills
deficiencies, computer illiteracy. Older people and those from a
different cultural background may feel less comfortable.
- Lack of visual cues, non-verbal cues, and misunderstandings
arising from this. Not able to observe how couples or family
- Time delays between contact and response in asynchronous
- Diminished capacity to deal with any crises.
- Verifying credentials of therapist, verifying that therapist
and/or client is the person online.
- Technical failures, limited access to communications
infrastructure, unreliable bandwidth connections.
- Security risks - email misdirected through error in address,
intercepted by hackers, computer programming errors.
- Client may expect services to be free.
- Legal and ethical issues, including confidentiality,
- Lack of therapist training.
To view the full report please click here.