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Is This The Future of Counseling?

Back in 1962, the animated TV show “The Jetsons” flew into our living rooms with a futuristic view of how our lives would look circa 2062.  One of this family’s modern conveniences was the ability to video chat with a doctor on a moments notice (Mother Jane Jetson employed this device when son Elroy self-diagnosed his case of the Venus Virus). It took a very real Coronavirus to make telehealth a 2019 household word.

Telehealth for physical and mental health appointments quickly became the way of our world the past couple years. These appointments kept us safely in our homes, away from crowds and COVID exposure while linking client and clinician. For behavioral health practitioners, this was a lifeline to our clients and it caused traditional agencies to make a quick pivot to embrace technology in a new way. Truth is, online options to deliver therapeutic services were quietly simmering before COVID upended our routines.

Like it was for The Jetsons, is telehealth poised to be the way practitioners care for our clients? In just two years – from 2019 to 2021 – the mental health applications market grew by a staggering 54.6-percent. Year over year growth is anticipated to be at lease 20-percent over the next five years, too, on this current trajectory.

According to a Deloitte Global study, spending on mobile mental health apps will reach close to $500 million this year if consumer’s mental wellness spending maintains its estimated 20-percent growth. Most of these products focus on providing instruction and practice of mindfulness and meditation as an alternative or add-on to traditional mental health therapies delivered by a practitioner.

Truly, any opportunity to deliver behavioral health treatment and referral to someone in need is a good thing. Any time. All the time. Since Gen X and Gen Z grew up holding devices, offering treatment in the way that makes them most comfortable is smart and consumer-centric. Smart phone use is increasing steadily, too, and another study by Ericsson in 2021 estimated the world-wide penetration of the internet exceeds 60-percent. But the bottom line is: is this effective as a long-term, evidenced-based way to delivery service and appropriate treatment?

Early studies have shown that promoting personalized care to individuals can yield positive results for people learning how to manage depression, anxiety, and stress reduction. Regrettably, many mental health and addiction recovery diagnoses are much more complex and require a higher level of intervention. For individuals with complex diagnoses, there are no quick fixes. This is where regular, in-person services – perhaps delivered in new ways and new settings – will still prevail.

The pandemic required us all to approach our work differently, and that includes how behavioral health agencies deliver care and services. It’s no longer reasonable to expect patients to come to the office if transportation is a barrier: more mobile units, alternative locations in non-clinical or non-office settings hold the key. True, there may be times when the convenience of a device will be a lifeline, but in-person interactions provide the accessibility and attentiveness that client and clinician need.

Cherie Messore

Sr. Manager of Public Relations

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