Online psychological therapy

What is this treatment?

When suffering from mental health conditions, psychotherapy is the gold standard treatment, although the ideal treatment depends greatly on the type of illness and on the patient’s circumstances. While many patients either seek out, or are referred to psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors, who they will visit on a face-to-face basis, sometimes personal circumstances make this direct contact impossible.

However, since the dawn of the internet, people working in the field of psychology have considered the potential of the World Wide Web as a tool for allowing people who can’t make it to a psychiatrist’s office to get the help they need.

Why would you do it?

Psychotherapy has proved beneficial for a great number of mental health patients, and is widely practised and utilised. Sometimes, just talking about, and sharing your problems can lift a huge weight, and therapists can provide a comfortable and safe setting to do this. However, some people are not in a position to seek out a professional therapist – this may be due to being geographically isolated, a job that involves a lot of travelling or due to health reasons, either physical, mental, or both. Any number of reasons could prevent a person from being able to get help. Additionally, some patients value their anonymity, and prefer not to see a therapist directly.

This is where online therapy comes in. It enables patients to talk and share their problems from a distance; from a place where they feel comfortable, or without having to make any long and/or difficult journeys.

What does it involve?

Online resources such as live chats, e-mail, and videoconferencing are used for communication between therapist and patient, allowing them to talk over a distance. While its efficacy compared to that of face-to-face psychotherapy is still being studied, online counselling is nevertheless widely used by both professional psychiatrists, and by volunteers, such as the Samaritans, who aim to help people in emotional crisis. While traditionally a phone-based organisation, the Samaritans have been providing suicide prevention services by e-mail since the mid-1990s.

Did you know…?

The birth of online counselling is considered to have been back in 1972, when computers from Stanford and UCLA ran a simulated psychotherapy session. However, despite early mental healthcare websites appearing in the 1980s, it was only in the mid-1990s that the idea began to take off, with fee-based, professional services appearing offering online psychotherapy.