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Digital therapy sessions are a step forward in online mental health for all

Stephanie Nuzzo explains why digital therapy means more accessible (and cheaper) mental health support for everyone. And yes, it’s effective – just ask her. 

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed a trend on my social media channels. Increasingly, I’m being served ads for digital psychology treatments.

My feeds have become breeding grounds for brands promoting instant support; universal access and cheaper fees for therapy. These ads have infiltrated my daily Internet use; regularly popping up to let me know I can video chat; text; or call a psychologist whenever I want.

After seeing, I don’t know, forty posts about these digital services I began to wonder: “How effective is this approach?”

As a regular human with regular human stuff, I’ve considered chatting to a psychologist a few times in the last year. But as I’m based in New York, I figured that kind of care was out of my reach, financially.

So, after some ‘gentle’ nudging from the Interwebs, I decided to look at the digital option (video, specifically). Turns out it was pretty easy to find a service I connected with.

Before I go into my experience a little more, though, let’s look into the specifics of digital psychology and how it works.

Mary Hoang, founder and lead psychologist of The Indigo Project in Sydney, is a big advocate for using “technology and online connection”. Her practice offers video therapy services along with an online course called Get Your Sh*t Together.

While she warned that “the mental health industry must be mindful of how it moves” into this new territory, Hoang said the digital arena is “too important a space not to utilise.”

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But does the nature of this approach change the therapy experience?

According to Breanna Jayne Sada, a psychologist with Lysn, (an online psychology service) “not really”.

She explained that in a digital setting, “Psychologists are still able to employ effective and empirically supported techniques with clients. Many assessments that gauge mood are able to be conducted online.”

Your therapist may need to alter their approach, however. Hoang shared that this depends on the “styles and modalities” the psychologist is using.

As with anything, mental health experiences vary significantly from person to person. So, I asked Hoang and Sada if they felt confident this was an option for everyone. They both stressed that online treatment is useful for most people.

Sada explained that it is down to preference, however: “Some people may not feel comfortable doing something so personal in the online space, or those who do not utilise the internet regularly may choose a face-to-face option,” she said.

“It is also important to note that online platforms do not replace emergency services. If someone is in need of immediate assistance or is at risk to themselves and needs to speak to someone urgently, they should contact 000 or services like Lifeline [on] 13 11 14.”

Hoang went on to explain that receiving care through a screen is no replacement “for holding emotional space for another person, while also sharing physical space with them”.

But this kind of service opens the door for people who otherwise might not be able to seek out psychological support like “people with disabilities, or those in rural and remote areas”.

She added: “…therapy is definitely not one of those things that’s like, ‘If I can’t do it face-to-face, why do it at all?’ There is tremendous benefit to therapy in all its forms.”

My online therapy sessions

Meeting my therapist, Jen* (not her real name) for the first time was a little daunting because, let’s be real, building a sense of intimacy and trust through a screen can feel odd.

But I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I got over that. Within the first session, I felt a connection building. In fact, opening up was quite easy.

That’s not to say there weren’t hiccups. There were times where the volume cut out; occasions where the picture dissolved into a million pixelated pieces and instances where Jen had to shift her approach to exercises.

It didn’t take away from the value in speaking to someone, though. It was so cathartic that I immediately signed up for more sessions.

In addition to my chats with Jen, I was lucky enough to try The Indigo Project’s Get Your Sh*t Together course.

The program, which is made up of video guides from Hoang; guided meditations and worksheets, asks you to look at your mental health and ways you can improve it.

While it’s not the same as speaking with a professional, I found these sessions constructive. Kind of like an intro to therapy. They got me thinking about my headspace and forced me to make mindfulness a part of my daily routine.

If my experience with digital therapy taught me anything, it’s that talking to someone, no matter how, is always a positive thing. And if you’re in a position where you can’t step into an office, it’s unequivocally worth trying the online approach.

If you’re considering a digital health plan, Head to Health, MindSpot, My Compass and This Way Up are some great resources. You may also qualify for low-cost or free support through the Better Access program – chat to your doctor to start the process.