Living on the cusp of the twenty-first century, we have unprecedented access to technology that can connect us with people. There has never been more ways for people to communicate with each other, allowing people from all over the world to connect with each other. In this new context, many therapists, counselors, and researchers are looking into ways to use this cutting edge technology to help people get access to addiction treatment.
Dr. Lisa Marsh, a professor of Psychiatry at Dartmouth University, has found that more than 90% of people with a substance abuse disorder do not get treatment. In her role as director of The Center for Technology and Behavioral Health, she is working to develop evidence-based treatment that uses the internet and social media technology so that more people can access it. If you are seeking treatment or help dealing with an addiction, there are a wide variety of online options available. Here are some of the facts of what online therapy can accomplish, as well as its potential limitations.
There are a wide variety of ways that technology can be utilized in a therapeutic relationship. The therapist might choose to share helpful videos, online articles, or blog posts that contain relevant information. You can also use email to correspond with someone over a longer period of time.
Some online therapists make use of avatar therapy, where you create a virtual “person” who can reflect some aspect of your personality. A therapist can make use of a variety of these tools and resources, experimenting to find the right fit for each client. More options allow for more experimentation to find out what works for you.
There is a lot of research that has shown the act of writing can be especially useful in helping work through your narrative or emotions. Sometimes simply talking in person may not be the best way to explore everything going on with you, and it helps to find alternative ways of exploring your self image. Technology should not take over or replace other ways of engaging in therapy, but can offer some important tools.
Online treatment is available 24-7. With in-person resources, you are dependent on someone else’s schedule, and have to wait for them. Through virtual 12-step and SMART meetings, there is no wait time, and resources are available anonymously on your demand. These incredibly valuable resource can thus be something you can turn to whenever you need it the most.
You can connect with both peers and experts who can help you sort through your feelings of craving, anxiety, or depression at the moment you feel it most strongly. The ease of access and low cost means that online therapy makes things available to everyone, whenever they need it.
Virtual therapy can have some limitations. A lot of communication is dependent on visual and aural cues that go beyond the exact words being said. It may be easier to be distracted, or to not feel like you give your whole attention to the therapy work. Therapy requires that you spend all of your attention on self-reflection, and this is more difficult to do when the therapist has less control over the atmosphere.
For this reason, psychiatrist Steven Reidbord, M.D., believes that virtual therapeutic sessions should generally only be considered in situations where meeting in person is impossible, and that “Face to face treatment is still the gold standard” in all therapeutic settings. Meeting with people and making direct human contact allows for a deeper connection.
While not perfect in all cases, online therapy does have a lot of important things to offer people who might not otherwise get access to the life-changing help that they need. If you are having difficulty finding help through conventional face-to-face therapy or support groups, expanding your options to include online resources may very well be an important piece in the day to day work of rebuilding your life in recovery.