Online Psychotherapy in the Mental Health Profession

This article is part one of a series of five that explores interesting, unique and noteworthy trends in the mental health profession. Understanding current trends and changes within a specific industry is one of the hallmarks of smart business practice. This process empowers professionals to make more effective and rewarding business decisions both now and in the future. Examining these changes also brings about opportunity if we are able to look at new service offerings and competitive influences in unique and creative ways.

Online Psychotherapy

Online counseling and psychotherapy is slowly becoming more and more of a viable option for people in need of psychological help and guidance. This model has its fair share of critics and there are valid concerns with respect to the therapeutic process. However, technology is quickly catching up with this model as high-speed wireless Internet access becomes commonplace along with video/audio streaming and web cam capabilities. In many instances, a session between a therapist and a patient in two different locations can be bridged quite effectively with the right technological specifications.

In the world of academia, we are seeing an increase in interest along with research in the area of online psychotherapy. One interesting resource worth a look comes from a psychologist named John Suler, Ph.D. of Rider University. In his article on “The Future of Online Psychotherapy and Clinical Work” published in the Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies in 2001, he predicts there will eventually be online psychotherapy specialists for each of the different types of online clinical models and formats.

His discussion also offers a good model for understanding the progression of online counseling to date. Dr. Suler begins with a discussion of online psychotherapy that utilizes email as the primary mode of interaction. He eventually brings us to the next stage in the development of online psychotherapy, which uses a more synchronous model (A type of two-way communication with virtually no time delay, allowing participants to respond in real time) such as chat therapy where there is real time text based interaction between client and therapist. Finally, he speaks of present day online therapy using a synchronous video based format whereby the client and therapist talk to and see one another real time via the Internet.

More and more practitioners are taking this mode of service delivery seriously in spite of some of the limitations that exist. If we are to look at this phenomenon from an opportunity standpoint we see that there will be demand beyond regional borders for those clinicians who brand themselves effectively and build a certain level of credibility in the field. It is not hard to imagine a scenario of an individual who suffers from a specific and/or unique psychological problem. This person chooses to research the perceived problem/symptoms on the Internet and finds an expert in that subject he/she chooses to seek services from regardless of that professional’s location. A practitioner who has marketed himself/herself effectively and has utilized today’s technology to offer something of value to others beyond traditional face-to-face psychotherapy will have a competitive advantage in that marketplace.

Dr. Suler peeks the reader’s interest even further with a discussion about the ability of the Internet to create imagery and multimedia environments that can be used in clinical interventions. Virtual realities are already being used in exposure therapy and relaxation procedures. He wonders if there might also be a place for Virtual Reality in trauma work, behavioral modeling and role-playing to name a few. If you would like more information about this topic I suggest you take a look at Dr. Suler’s online book, The Psychology of Cyberspace, at

My reason for discussing online psychotherapy and other trends within the mental health profession is to provide practicing clinicians with information that will offer them unique views, concepts and ideas about the clinical process. This information should offer you some insight into what may lie ahead in the future as both a challenge and opportunity. One of those opportunities will be online psychotherapy in its many variations and specialties.

Copyright 2008 – David Diana. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

References: Suler, J. (2004). The Future of Online Psychotherapy and Clinical Work. In The Psychology of Cyberspace, (article orig. pub. 2001)

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