During the period of the coronavirus-related quarantine, all normal activities in the presence were interrupted due to government provisions to contain the infection.
In many cases, IT tools have come to help us, allowing us to carry on work, study, and emotional relationships.
In these long days, words like smart working and distance learning have entered our vocabulary and many of us have begun to use video chat tools such as Skype or Zoom to feel in touch with friends, relatives, loved ones that we could not meet.
Psychotherapy managed to leverage the same trends and remote therapy sessions are now more common than ever.
Often this type of interaction can be perplexing. The question is whether online psychotherapy can be as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy in the therapist’s office. There can be a thousand doubts and resistances, not only on the part of the patient, but also of the therapist, accustomed to a different interaction, to a face to face confrontation, within a specific physical space.
Yet, e-therapy or web therapy – other ways in which online psychotherapy is defined – is now a consolidated treatment approach, of which benefits and opportunities are known, demonstrated by studies and also by daily clinical practice.
Effectiveness of distance psychotherapy
Researchers from the University of Zurich in teams with colleagues from the University of Leipzig conducted a study to verify the effectiveness of remote psychotherapy compared to face-to-face psychotherapy. The study involved 62 patients, suffering from moderate depression, who decided to undertake an 8-week course of cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. The patients were divided into two equal groups. Some of them followed normal psychotherapy, regularly meeting a therapist once a week and carrying out the tasks required by this type of therapeutic approach. The others, on the other hand, followed an online therapy, carried out not in video chat, but by sending some written assignments via email, followed by the therapist’s feedback. There was, however, no type of direct interaction. At the conclusion of the 8-week period, both groups of patients achieved good results. Depression was no longer diagnosable in 50% of patients who had followed traditional psychotherapy and in 53% of patients who had instead followed the distance psychotherapy path.
A further verification, three months after the conclusion of the therapeutic path, provided even more comforting data than web therapy. Depression in the remotely treated patients had further decreased, from 53% to 57% while the others had relapses and the percentage of healings had decreased.
According to the scholars, these results can be explained by considering the way in which patients have approached the therapy. Those who followed an online path were more attentive to the way in which they carried out the assigned tasks because they knew that this would be the only way to go forward and face their discomfort. This led them to read the correspondence with the therapist several times, assimilating the feedback, coming to manage negative thoughts and dysfunctional behaviors more effectively.
Beyond this study, it is the same clinical practice that shows us how unfounded prejudices against distance psychotherapy are. Even when the dialogue between patient and therapist is mediated by a computer screen, the prerequisites for establishing an effective therapeutic relationship are still there. Having overcome the first difficulties, due to the approach to a new reality, never experienced before, we realize how much web therapy can be extremely therapeutic. There is not that feeling of coldness and distance that we are used to associate with the virtual. Despite the screen filter, the perception of the other remains the same, as well as the level of empathy, which does not strictly have to do with the tool used.
The ability to understand, listen and welcome the other remains unchanged.
Still, it’s important to design the right format that works for each of us. Here is a guide on the topic on BetterHelp.com.
The tools of technology have the enormous advantage of making psychotherapy and psychological assistance more accessible, in all senses. In a sense, online psychotherapy allows you to break down barriers and overcome a whole series of limitations. For example, all those who do not have the physical possibility to reach the therapist’s office can use it: those who suffer from motor problems or diseases; those who live in more isolated places and do not have the means to move or have a rather limited range of choices due to the absence of services in the area; those who travel for work reasons and could not give continuity over time to a personal journey or are forced to move to foreign countries, where they cannot count on a professional who speaks their language.
Furthermore, distance psychotherapy also appears to be more effective than some types of patients. Let’s think, for example, of those who experience strong resistance, that is, emotions, thoughts and behaviors that prevent the progression of the therapeutic path, preventing access to unconscious contents. In these cases, the use of web therapy with the presence of a “reassuring” filter represented by the screen, can make the patient feel safer and predispose him to greater openness in the interview with the therapist.
But also for sociophobic patients, who suffer from social anxiety and find it difficult to leave their home, remote psychotherapy is a valid and extremely profitable alternative.
A further observation on web therapy arises from the particular moment that we are all experiencing, linked to the Coronavirus health emergency and to all the regulations put in place to avoid the spread of the infection. In a context of such a crisis, which also has numerous psychological consequences, the possibility of carrying out psychotherapy sessions online has a strong reassuring value, both for the patient and for the therapist. Remote interaction, each in their own home, allows you to create a comfortable, truly protected space, as it should be in traditional therapy. In this way, there can be greater serenity, one should not think of the thousand precautions (social distance, the mask, the disinfection of every surface) that can cause anxiety and concern.