NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Distance Therapy

April 22, 2011

Researchers, patients and mental health practitioners have long applauded some aspects of therapy at a distance: it is low-cost and easy to schedule, protects clients' privacy, shields both therapist and client from the possibility of physical or sexual abuse, and makes expertise available for rare conditions wherever it is needed.  Now new research demonstrates that distance therapy is, in fact, effective, says Robert Epstein, contributing editor for Scientific American.

Given the positive findings about the power of therapy delivered by remote means such as e-mail, video, chat, voice or texting, the professional associations have been coming onboard.  The American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers and other societies now have official e-therapy guidelines for practitioners, and the American Psychological Association has given therapy at a distance tacit approval.  According to clinical psychologist Gerald P. Koocher of Simmons College, "the important thing is that you're practicing competently, no matter how you're delivering the therapy."

  • Virtual-reality programs can help treat psychological problems such as phobias, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress.
  • Within the next five to 10 years upward of a billion people worldwide are expected to spend much of their time in virtual communities, where, undoubtedly, both human and software therapists will have no shortage of virtual customers.
  • Meanwhile other nontraditional therapies are advancing, such as new pharmaceuticals and direct brain stimulation.

Although traditional, face-to-face therapy will likely continue to be practiced for decades, it will undoubtedly play a smaller and smaller role in the extraordinary world of therapeutic intervention that lies ahead, says Epstein.

Source: Robert Epstein, "Distance Therapy Comes of Age," Scientific American Mind, May/June 2011

For text: (gated)


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