The Need for Human Connection in Digital Mental Health Care

Posted on August 10, 2016

In conventional mental health care, the therapist—such as a psychologist or counsellor—develops an ongoing relationship with the client that is characterized by trust, empathy, and support. Regardless of the type of therapy being used, the longstanding consensus among researchers is that this relationship can be healing in itself; when therapists actively listen, indicate understanding, communicate effectively, and present a warm, approachable demeanor, clients not only report better experiences, but also show improved health outcomes.

However, technology is radically changing the relationship between therapists and clients—in some cases because the therapist is technology. Nowadays you can work through depression with the help of a chatbot, overcome a phobia using a virtual reality headset, or learn how to combat anxiety through a self-guided online program. If you prefer a real person on the other end, numerous services offer video appointments, phone calls, or text messaging with therapists whom you don’t ever have to meet.

This trend brings into question whether users will miss out on the advantages of in-person human connection. If you’ve been in a long-distance relationship or had a close friend move to another city, you know that no matter how often you communicate over live video or instant messages, it doesn’t feel as good as when you spend time physically together.

The same may be true of mental health care. With technology altering the way therapists and clients interact—and occasionally replacing therapists entirely—the risk is that their bond, along with the psychological value it confers, may be diminished. Perhaps for that reason, when asked how they would like to receive therapy, 67% of respondents in a recent survey preferred face-to-face meetings, compared to only 7% who would opt for internet-based treatment.

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Category(s):Mental Health Professions

Source material from Scientific American

Mental Health News