Online Therapy 
Brave new world or minefield?

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Brave new world or minefield?

The following article is written by Kate Dunn, a psychotherapeutic counsellor with a particular interest in online therapy.

Many therapists have already taken steps into delivering online therapy, others will be considering it and wondering where to start.  Perhaps every one of us should stop and think seriously about our personal use of modern communication processes and the impact this is having on our engagement with our clients, directly or indirectly.

Since the times of the Ancient Greeks, there has been a tradition of distance communication of shared wisdom and reflection that crosses physical and geographical barriers.  The messengers who disseminated the inspirations of their philosophers travelled far and wide to communicate metaphorical imagery aimed at greater understanding of the human condition. 

Freud regularly engaged in lengthy correspondence with patients as both an adjunct and sometimes centrally within his work.  So the therapeutic sharing of and reflection on sensitive personal information through writing is not a new phenomenon – what evolves are the materials used and the time taken for the information to be exchanged.

Our clients: the ’digital natives’

The reality in 2015 is that the clients we work with, especially the ‘digital natives’ – born after 1980, directly into a world of information technology, expect all areas of their life to be available and enabled through technology.  Furthermore, many of the psychological pressures they experience arise as a result of this frantic world too – perhaps a bitter irony.  We have a plethora of programs, apps and equipment at our fingertips and those with fundamentally commercial interests are now knocking hard at our doors. 

Our professional responsibilities

The challenges, as we embrace online working, are many; how can we retain professionalism, adherence to our ethical codes and commitments, security and empathy, to name but a few.  The choices are many; how do we know we are making ones that are in the best interests of our clients, whatever marketing straplines may suggest?

As with any other new approach or modality that we choose, we have a professional responsibility to find out as much as we can about working in new ways before we engage in them, and to make our choices appropriately informed.  We need to undergo training and to turn for help to those who have been researching this field for some years now and have much to offer in their writing and training(1). 

In my experience, having worked online for about eight years and having engaged in research into the online therapeutic relationship(2), delivering therapy mediated through technology is most definitely not simply ‘doing the same thing using modern communications’.  It is a rich, exciting and complex new way of working that can enhance, supplement and support our traditional approaches.  It is not a substitute but it does open many new doors.  If we are to maintain our professional credibility we need to approach it with the same care, curiosity and caution that we brought to our core training and seek as much information and help as we can before jumping in with both feet.  

Kate examines the different approaches that can be taken when delivering online therapy in her next article - read it here

 

1. A good starting point might be to read Weitz, P (2014) Psychotherapy 2.0: Where Psychotherapy and Technology Meet  London: Karnac Books

2. Dunn, K (2012) A qualitative investigation into the online counselling relationship: To meet or not to meet Counselling and Psychotherapy Research 12 (4) pp 316-326