What is virtual psychotherapy?

The changes in society, the demands on it are presented and opportunities offered by growing day by day, has enabled to expand our scope of practice in growing areas and places. The boundaries that define human relations have been modified on time, socio-economic changes and technological advances. Lately we live the beginning of the “virtual reality”  so far in the Internet its wider expression. Cyberspace is a new social and psychological space as shown in Suler (2006) and Wallace (2001).

Online counseling

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The online counseling emerges as a therapeutic modality that aims to bring the patient using current technologies (let us remember that 35 years ago began Phone therapies or telescopically). therapy is offered through emails, live chat, video or a combination of several of the previous time. Some patients use online counseling together with traditional face to face. The on-line therapy is a real therapy, as a real contact between client and therapist is produced, albeit in a “virtual” space.

The truth is that, as not all psychological schools fit all patients (approximately opt for CBT, others are more comfortable with psychoanalysis or others prefer the closer contact of humanistic or systemic therapies), and that not all tools are best suited to solve as what types of pathologies, we can say that virtual therapy has its own characteristics that, like other therapeutic methods may fit better or worse depending on patients as well as according to pathologies.

Clinical studies

Virtual reality therapy is an emerging but no doubt that will eventually be consolidated as they have done the eHealth services. According to Riper, H. Smit, F. currently 60% of countries (representing 80% of the world population) have some assets eHealth program.

Regarding the disadvantages identified in relation to inadequate channel for the development of clinical therapies, most of them have been refuted by available clinical studies. Thus we find several studies that refer to successful treatment of severe disorders like bulimia, anorexia, major depression, substance abuse and schizophrenia. Also, UK has approved two programs virtual psychotherapy to treat both depressive disorders (Beating the Blues) and anxiety disorders (Fear Fighter) (Riper, H. and Smith, F.).

Ethical considerations about the online counseling

Both online, and offline, you can fall into misconduct of a therapeutic relationship, in which far from helping to resolve a limiting situation can favor the maintenance of maladaptive behavior patterns.

It is therefore of utmost importance that whoever offers the service of psychotherapy has gone through a formal and proper training process. Equally urgent is done to update the codes of professional ethics which already show obsolescence and empty so amazing that provide clear guidelines on good behavior, criteria for evaluating the efficiency of the service and the necessary limits to preserve nature relationship.

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The Coalition for Health Care on the Internet (Internet Healthcare Coalition) is dedicated since 1997 to identify and promote quality resources in health care on the Internet, and its main goal is to educate consumers and professionals about matters relating to the quality of resources and health information available on the Internet. Also the International Society for Mental Health Online (International Society for Mental Health Online) has developed a guide to follow suggestions for the provision of mental health services through very similar to the above codes Internet, highlighting the potential risks and benefits of online counseling.

ADVANTAGES

  • Contact without spatial limit: Therapist and patient can establish a relationship regardless of their physical location and distance between the two.
  • Contact without time limit: The therapist may be always available, either synchronously (for example through a chat) or asynchronous (e.g. e-mail).
  • Allows the literal and simple registration sessions: This facilitates the review session, and reach new discoveries that improve the support offered to the patient.
  • Allows the customer to re-reading session bringing the strengthening of progress, a new thinking which in turn cause changes to the patient, which ultimately is the goal of therapy, and other materials online
  • Primary prevention can facilitate early cases would need psycho therapeutic assistance and they would not attend the mental health services otherwise boarding.
  • Treatment for people with no medical problems that would benefit from psycho therapeutic support.
  • Relatively lower cost.
  • It saves time and money for travel therapist and patient, also giving greater flexibility in the agendas of each.
  • It allows to express emotions more deeply. Privacy.
  • Support groups: It may be the way to form support groups for people with extremely rare and that would be impossible “in person” pathologies.

DISADVANTAGES

  • It is not possible to psychopathology or deep psychiatric disorders.
  • Decrease or loss of visual and auditory communication. Can cause diagnostic problems, perception of the patient’s identity and problems in the perception of communication difficulties in the patient.
  • Confidentiality is not 100% guaranteed that the message can not be intercepted and accessed by hackers or hackers.
  • Crisis Management: This becomes more difficult when patient and therapist are in different geographical areas and do not have other means of contact.
  • Judicial and legal issues: The fact that therapist and patient are in different states or different countries, with different laws, difficult or impossible to establish the limits of the legal responsibilities.
  • Competition: The lack of training of some professionals in this new type of therapy is also an important issue to consider.