The good and the ugly of online therapy

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021 00:00 |
The good and the ugly of online therapy.

Today there are innumerous therapists on social media sharing bite-sized videos on varying topical issues and garnering millions of views and comments while at it.

Nailantei Norari @artnorari

You have probably seen people posting and reposting therapy and counselling videos.

Some people even go a step further and diagnose past partners or even themselves with certain psychological conditions and disorders.

With more than 3.8 billion people on social media, it was inevitable that psychology and counselling therapy would eventually find its way online. 

Today, there are innumerous therapists on TikTok and Instagram, sharing bite-sized videos on varying topical issues and garnering millions of views and comments while at it. But is this a good or bad thing?

Counselling psychologist Elmard Rigan explains that online therapy, that of client and therapist holding session via phone, Skype or Zoom, is perfect for economic reasons where client may not afford live sessions and the therapist may not afford physical space.

It is also great as it widens access to therapy regardless of geographical positions and time constraints. However, there are some disadvantages to this.

Painkiller solutions

 “With online therapy, the physical connection is lost, and all vital cues of deportment and body language are missing too.

One may  run into unscrupulous people whose sole aim is make money. Moreover, the information shared online may be inaccurate and may lead to a wrong self-diagnosis.

A wrong self-diagnosis, especially pertaining to psychological symptoms and disorders can lead to anxiety, which can lead a client to self-medicate.

It can also pose other health risks that may graduate to anxiety, depression or a psychological disorder if unchecked,” Elmard says.

Benjamin Zulu concurs. “For painkiller solutions, TikTok and Instagram posts were perfect.

There are some things you need general knowledge to solve. Can you imagine going to hospital every time you need a prescription?

So they do help up to a point. But there are other things you might need surgery for, in which case you would require a one-on-one with a therapist,” Zulu, a psychologist and relationships and personal development coach explains.

He explains how the complexity of most therapy differs from patient to patient, hence the advice given is of some use.

It only can be completely helpful if the person reading it reaches out via direct message or calls so that they can get more personalised and extensive help. He further likens online therapy to group counselling.

“There is a great sense of community on online therapy posts as people share their experiences on the topic shared.

This can give anyone going through the described psychological problems hope and courage as they are not alone.

In the same vein, they will also get bad advice as some people may still be hurting and giving advice from a traumatised point.

It goes without saying that implementing such coloured advice could be harmful,” Zulu further elaborates.

Way forward

“It is important to practice caution when looking for advice. Be willing to pay for a good therapist.

And even then, research on the therapist you pick. What are their reviews online? Are there any cultural differences between you two?

This helps so that they better understand your context, as what may be alarming in one culture may not be alarming in another.

Work on referrals where possible. Then if you can, proceed to face-to-face counselling to see your counsellor’s non-verbal cues,” Zulu advises.

Elmard agrees and advises online therapy and psychology information consumers to practice caution and only use information from verifiable sources such as the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation or other reputable verified individual.

He also advices online users to refrain from self-diagnosing, or asking friends to confirm their diagnosis based solely on an online post. 

They should get a professional to help. He similarly advises therapists and counsellors to practice caution and intent when posting information online.

“Therapists should ensure that whatever they  post is verified and truthful. They should also ensure that any actionable advice given cannot cause harm to potential readers.

The real intention of the message should be clear, and in case the readers reach out for help, they should ensure they are available for further clarifications,” Elmard says.

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