Therapy conducted online, through various video conferencing platforms, is a growing trend. With any new treatment modality, therapists rely upon the results from carefully conducted research such as this new study to guide their practice and ensure ethical behavior. The survey results will also help those individuals in search of an online therapist to make better, more informed choices.
When I began practicing online therapy more than 5 years ago, there was virtually no guidance or support within my professional community or in the published literature; my colleagues viewed my new endeavor with skepticism and sometimes overt disapproval. I had to learn how to adapt myself to this medium almost entirely on my own.
To my surprise, I discovered early on that practicing by video conferencing platform isn't as different from in-person work as I had expected. Empathy is what makes effective therapy possible of course; what I've learned by experience and through research for my new book, is that empathy is not a mystical process that depends upon physical proximity. Empathy occurs when we read the facial expressions on the faces of our clients (and friends, family, loved ones, etc.); without realizing it, we bring our own faces into alignment, thereby stimulating an effective response that mirrors what the other person is feeling. Face-to-face interactions through a video screen make empathy possible even though we may be thousands of miles apart.
What I also learned very quickly is how many people in the world lack access to quality mental health care, either because they live in remote places in their home countries, or because they reside abroad surrounded by a culture that makes them feel alienated and alone. Often they don't speak the local language well enough for a psychotherapy relationship. During these past six years, I've worked with expats living all over the world, from Israel to Singapore to Australia. I had no idea about the widespread unmet need for quality psychotherapy.
Now comes this study from my colleague, Anastasia Piatakhina Gire, a psychotherapist based in Paris who has also worked with expats the world over. Her preliminary findings have confirmed what my own experience has taught me—that many people who choose online therapy do so because they are unable to find a therapist in the area where they live or because their work takes them to countries where professionals who speak their native language are unavailable. Feelings of disconnection or displacement characterize the inner emotional life of many individuals in today’s world, whether they live at home or abroad.
To better understand the experience of such individuals, Gire has designed a survey that asks people about their individual experience of online therapy: “Displacement and online therapy: is there a natural relationship? Exploring the displaced individual’s experience of online therapy." The survey is simple, short (it takes only five minutes to complete), and completely anonymous. And it can be taken online.
For this research to yield meaningful results, she needs to collect at least 200 completed surveys. If you’ve had first-hand experience with online therapy while living in your home country or abroad, your input would be extremely helpful to her. It will lead to published research that will guide future therapists who choose to practice online, and help clients to find the online therapist best suited to their needs.
Please take the survey here.