Behavioural Science Blog

The Science of Human Behaviour

Advantages and Risks of Internet-Based Psychotherapy

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Internet-based psychotherapy is a hot topic since a few years. The main advantage is money: Computers are much cheaper to run than licensed psychotherapist. So if a computer could achieve the same or nearly the same treatment outcome as a human expert this would be a huge advantage, as computer systems can be replicated almost infinitely (and once the program is written at almost no costs). We have to keep in mind that for political and economical decision making the effect size is not the only important factor. When considering which project to found something like “effect size“ / costs is more appropriate. In times of long waiting lists and many people without health insurance, cheap treatment means reaching more people. Another advantage is that physical boundaries are not important anymore. If a specialist for a specific therapy is 1000km away it just does not matter anymore. Furthermore the possibilities for comprehensive care, by involving personal with different expertise (social workers, psychologists, physicians) can be achieved by using the internet as a medium.

On the other hand there are some drawbacks. Privacy is a difficult factor as digital information is much more vulnerable than a handwritten dossier. Traffic which uses the internet (and not some special intranet) is always at risk, not to mention the risks on the computer of the client and therapist itself (viruses, Trojan horses, etc…). Face to face contact also offers additional information about the client (non-verbal communication, punctuality, interaction with other patients/staff members) that are lost in a digital environment. Therapeutic alliance is also more difficult to achieve in purely internet-based psychotherapies. I believe that ultimately internet-based therapy will play huge role in mental health care, especially in the concept of stepped-care. There are many ways to use computers and the internet to improve on the (very expensive) system we have today, but face to face therapy will always be an important part of every sever disorder, as (disturbed) human interaction often lays at the core of the problems. That said, we should try to develop digital forms of psychotherapy because not only will that give access to important help to much more people, but we will also be able to learn about the therapeutic process from that experience. In turn that will also increase efficiency of traditional psychotherapy and supply us with new hypothesis and theories.

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Written by Martin Glanert

November 26, 2008 at 3:10 pm

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