Online Therapy/Online Counseling: Good or bad?

While browsing through the January issue of APA’s magazine, I stumbled upon an article written by Kirsten Weir about a mobile app that tracks mental health. The article lead me to make a connection to Geoffrey Miller’s article, “The Smartphone Psychology Manifesto.” Miller predicted that by 2025, psychological studies could essentially be conducted through information collected from smartphones. Miller claims that smartphones could be used to administer tests and collect user data. He even made the claim that smartphones could create a revolution within the field that surpasses even the influence of the desktop computer. Ultimately, taking advantage of this new technology would, according to Miller, make studies more complex and accurate.

Miller’s prediction made me realize that this revolution has already begun. A number of survey apps are available on smartphones, such as SurveyPocket, iPoll, and SurveyMonkey. In addition to survey apps, online counseling therapy offers a new breakthrough in psychology. Talkspace and BetterHelp, which are both available on mobile apps, represent just two examples of this new software.

Going back to Kirsten Weir’s article, can an app actually track mental health and change one’s mood? Weir advises the public to tread lightly. According to the director of Georgia Tech’s Interactive Media Technology Center, Dr. Maribeth Gandy Coleman, the existing technology needs to become more accurate and reliable. However, once that hurdle is cleared, the real work is just the beginning. Dr. Coleman adds that more education on the side of clinicians and the public about how to use these apps and the data they collect is essential before any real revolution can happen in the field.

One may ask, is this technology a help or a hindrance? Here’s my thoughts on that.

I believe online therapy has both advantages and disadvantages. I also believe that measuring whether something is good or bad is all about perspective. One person may believe that online therapy is useful, while another may not trust the idea of talking to a therapist over the internet.

I would say that online therapy would be convenient. I mean we rely on technology with most things today. In addition, as someone from an Asian background, online counseling or therapy would likely be preferable for those of my ethnicity, since most Asians are afraid of going to a counseling/therapy clinic due to the social stigma associated with mental illness. Lastly, this technology is also a good alternative for those individuals with no access to mental health counseling or therapy in their area.

On the other hand, there are also many possible issues. One good example is privacy. In today’s computer age, a patient’s information can be so easily hacked on the internet. In a different vein, not having the face-to-face interaction could pose unique problems for counselors and therapists as 90% of human communication comes through body language. Subtle inferences that could be made in person, could be lost in an online conversation. There also is a question of whether or not help will be immediately reachable in case of a crisis situation. Lastly, my biggest concern is licensing. Therapists and counselors come from all over the country, or possibly even the world. Most clients today prefer someone with good experience who is highly qualified for the job. Opening this up too much could widen the opportunity for fraud.

Good or bad, I think it is the responsibility of the therapist and the client to use the new technology with caution.

Sources:

Miller, G. (2012) The smartphone psychology manifesto. Perspectives on Psychological Science , Vol 7, Issue 3, pp. 221–237.

Weir, K. (2018) Can an app change your mood? Monitor on Psychology, Vol. 49 (№1). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/01/app-mood.aspx