Is Online Therapy The Way Forward In Minding Your Mental Health? We Investigate

It's easier than ever to access qualified mental health professionals without leaving the house.

Who do you turn to when you need advice? Do you call your mum and bend her ear about your troubles? Or do you grab a trusted pal and thrash it all out over coffee? What if you had a problem that a strong cup of joe and a half hour of venting with your friend couldn’t fix? A problem that shadowed your moods, made you feel isolated and felt too big and scary to manage – or if there was no apparent problem at all, and you just felt low. Would you go and see a therapist? What if you could talk to them, not in the unfamiliar confines of their office, but online?

The Irish Association Of University and College Counsellors has noted a 300% increase in students accessing on-campus counselling over the past years and as our willingness to mind our mental health increases, so too do the ways of accessing support. Anyone who’s sought help will know that it’s often not as easy to get as one might think, and it can be expensive. But these days there are online self help programmes, video-based therapy sessions and – yes – even text services all offering a reassuring voice.

Asking for help has become less stigmatised, sure, but is managing your mental health online in the same manner we might check our social media accounts, track our fitness progress and keep tabs on our bank balance really the way to go? I put that question to psychotherapist Jason Brennan, the man behind videoDoc’s newly launched e-therapy service. In an era when screen time is our de facto fallback and face to face interaction seems to be becoming more and more limited, is reaching out online really the best option?

The advantage of online therapy is that people can now access a qualified therapist without having to leave the comfort of their own home. This saves a lot of time and stress and reduces the likelihood of a person talking themselves out of it, even though they know it’ll be good for them.

Add to that, accessing traditional forms of therapy is not without its challenges, particularly in parts of rural Ireland, Jason makes clear. “The online option is great for areas that do not have a face to face service available locally. In small towns it’s often likely that you could know the local therapist personally too, which can cause complications. Working with an online therapist on the other hand allows a level of anonymity that may not otherwise be available.”

The type of therapy videoDoc uses is pretty flexible too. “It’s focused brief therapy (FBT), so the person doesn’t have to feel locked into continually seeing the same therapist, they can easily book another therapist if they do not connect with the first one they see online,” Jason explains. And if that doesn’t sell online therapy to you, perhaps the cost factor will. The videoDoc therapy service is priced €25 per consultation, with annual subscriptions available for €35, while the cost of face-to-face sessions with a psychotherapist can range anywhere from €50 to €120 per session.

The benefits are clear yet still I can’t get over the idea that booking in some screen time with a stranger and sharing your deepest thoughts and fears via video call could feel a little…. awkward. I ask Louise, 31, who’s had a number of online therapy sessions, what it feels like.

“The first time I signed up for online therapy, I wasn’t depressed,” she explains, “but I was certainly feeling a bit lost and a bit hopeless. There were certain areas of my life that I wasn’t happy with and I couldn’t seem to deal with them or improve them on my own, so I made the decision to access video therapy.”

I’ll be honest, it was a little tricky at first. The first session I had my heart was pounding beforehand and I worried that it might feel uncomfortable discussing stuff that was very close to my heart over a video call. It’s strange but a few minutes into it, my nerves dissipated and I relaxed. Honestly, it felt no different to how I’d imagine lying on a therapist’s couch in their office might do.

“Perhaps in a way,” Louise adds, “it felt more comfortable than traditional therapy. Because of the physical distance between myself and the person on the other end of the screen I actually felt that I could talk more openly, than if I’d been in their office or at their home.”

Most importantly, video therapy was something Louise found hugely beneficial. “When I’d finished that first course I felt that I had a newfound direction in life. I’d a clearer idea of what I wanted out of the next couple of months and years, and more importantly, I found that my confidence and self esteem had improved.

“I’d been given strategies that would help me if I slipped back into old habits like letting my inner critic run riot or allowing myself to fall into a negativity spiral. It helped too that I knew if I started to feel lost again it was simply a matter of opening up my laptop and booking in for another session.” And what if you don’t need therapy per se, just a gentle nudge in the right direction? That’s where online programmes like that of life coach Paula Coogan’s Wisdom Circle and Fiona Brennan’s Positive Habit come in.

Coogan’s Wisdom Circle allows clients to look back on the year that’s been and make a meaningful change for the one that’s about to begin with three video calls over the course of three weeks, with the added benefit of having the support of a private online community of like-minded women. For Paula, the advantage of conducting therapy in this manner is clear:

In my experience an online session can be very focused and powerful. There’s very little distraction, there’s no rushing or settling into the session for the client as often they’ll have prepared themselves, have a cup of tea and be ready and present as opposed to jumping off the Luas in the rain five minutes ago.

So is online therapy the way forward when it comes to minding your mental health? Jason certainly thinks so. “As a therapist the vast majority of people I see are the ‘worried well’. They are fundamentally well in themselves and have developed pretty good coping skills, but the demands of life at times are taking a bit of a toll and they need a few extra ways of managing things; keeping themselves on the path to where they want to get to,” he explains. “FBT is a helpful way of doing this, especially when life’s path feels a bit steep. videoDoc online therapy sessions now make it much more open, accessible and cost effective for everyone to feel supported.”

Louise concurs. “I feel that we’ve just so much going on in our day to day lives now, friends to keep up with, careers to progress in, financial demands, relationships to maintain, that it’s only natural that we’d need a little helping hand every now and again and online therapy is a great way to access that extra support.”

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