Over the past year, psychotherapy has undergone a revolution inspired by the widespread availability of digital technology. It was not long ago that psychotherapy was considered an intimate face-to-face connection between two people, unassisted by external apparatuses. Even with the increased popularity and accessibility of telemental health, some reservation remains regarding the role of technology in psychotherapy. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including provider reluctance, the complexity of integrating technology while complying with HIPPA regulations and state laws, and adapting to healthcare reform. Despite the reluctance that some experience, telemental health care has been recognized as a critical agent of change in the field.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, large agencies established the benefits of leveraging technology in psychotherapy. For example, the Department of Defense (DoD) TRICARE program was launched in 1988 to provide comprehensive healthcare coverage to all beneficiaries including uniformed service members, retirees, and their families around the world. Given their global reach , TRICARE began to use secure video conferencing to provide medically necessary services, including telemental health services. Similarly, organizations such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have leveraged telehealth services to reach those who live in rural areas, encounter transportation difficulties or otherwise face barriers to care.
In fact, a large-scale meta-analysis found that telemental healthcare is an extended domain supportive of conventional mental health services, offering providers a wide variety of innovative approaches for intervention. While being comparable to in-person services, telemental healthcare affords effective and adaptive solutions that are often inexpensive and advantageous, particularly in populations with difficulties accessing care (Langarizadeh et al., 2017). In their review of the literature, researchers identified several areas in which telemental health can significantly enhance care.
Other experts in the field, such as Imel and colleagues (2017), argue that technology can notably enhance psychotherapy research in the following ways:
It appears we are in the midst of a technological revolution that has and will continue to impact the practice of mental healthcare. While mental health treatment will likely always involve interpersonal interactions, leveraging technology will help to enhance access and quality of care.
Editor's Note: For more information on this topic, you can watch our webinar "CDP Presents: Technology and Telehealth - Maximizing Treatment Quality and Accessibility Across the Virtual Divide"
The opinions in CDP Staff Perspective blogs are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science or the Department of Defense.
Sharon Birman, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist serving as a Senior Military Behavioral Health Psychologist with the Center for Deployment Psychology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
Imel, Z. E., Caperton, D. D., Tanana, M., & Atkins, D. C. (2017). Technology-enhanced human
interaction in psychotherapy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 64(4), 385–393. https://doi.org/10.1037/cou0000213
Langarizadeh, M., Tabatabaei, M. S., Tavakol, K., Naghipour, M., Rostami, A., & Moghbeli, F.
(2017). Telemental health care, an effective alternative to conventional mental care: A systematic review. Journal of the Society for Medical Informatics of Bosnia & Herzegovina, 25(4), 240–246. https://doi.org/10.5455/aim.2017.25.240-246