In this week's column, psychotherapist and member of the UK Council for Psychotheraphy, Aaron Balick, speaks to PARN's CEO about the difficulties of his profession in the digital age.
The practice of psychotherapy has remained practically unchanged since its inception towards the end of the 19th century: two people talking to each other in a room. Dr. Aaron Balick, psychotherapist and member of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, explained that technological advances in the 21st century are provoking the first fundamental challenge to this dynamic since the comfy chair replaced the couch.
‘Where the work of psychotherapy was once limited to the consultation room, today we are bombarded by text messages and emails from distressed patients between sessions, which are vulnerable to viruses and hacking. The new culture creates expectations of an instantaneous reply, placing psychotherapists in conflict between our sense of duty and our private life.’
Beyond these direct extra-clinical communications is the problem of indirect interaction through the Internet. ‘Traditionally psychotherapists keep their own lives to themselves to enable the patient to share more of theirs. Today, via overlapping social networks or Google searches, patients can find more about their therapist than either party is comfortable with. This can affect their therapeutic relationship.’’
Aaron expressed the challenge succinctly. ‘The therapeutic relationship is the single most important aspect of a successful therapy. Many of the boundaries originally intended to protect it are no longer sustainable. Pychotherapists must adapt and respond.’
He went on to identify current responses. ‘Those working traditionally can create digital policies to help contain their work. By integrating these into their therapy contracts, they recognize the wider world, while proceeding to meet it in a therapeutic and responsible way.’
Some, like Aaron, are actually embracing the new technology. He offers video conferencing and text-based mental health services. Aaron notes that studies are beginning to show that this may increase access to psychotherapy – shy demographics like young men who could be helped.’
Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN
First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 23 January 2015
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