Counseling minus the counselor
Updated: Dec 7, 2019
People who struggle with mental health tend to feel like they’re alone. Counseling is one way to cope and find answers, and in a world where answers are a click away, people can now access one more resource: online counseling.
“For me personally, it stems mostly from social anxiety,” Gabby McIntosh, a college junior, said. “In some cases, if I'm at an event in school or just in general, I feel alone in a room. I sometimes don’t feel loved, or sometimes don’t feel like I can function as a regular human being,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh is a pre-pharmacy major who plans to pursue graduate school. She’s an active part of her school’s campus life. However, behind her friendly persona, many times McIntosh can’t fully commit to others due to her social anxiety. Even being at the library is a battle.
“I feel overwhelmed in a sense. This space can be very hard for me, especially when I’m studying. I can compare myself to other people as a result,” McIntosh said. “I try to be around people I can talk to to try to put it at ease because sometimes being alone can be a little bit scary.
But McIntosh isn’t the only student battling mental health problems.
When sophomore Gracie Dupee is not busy translating Greek for her honors classes, she spends time with her close friends. But opening up to her friends about dealing with depression wasn’t always easy for Dupee.
“I actually hadn’t told any of my friends about it. Particularly, one of my friends I didn’t tell until literally after the summer I had taken counseling because I was scared she was going to say something about it,” Dupee said.
Dupee’s negative thoughts increased until they ended up putting her own well-being in danger. It was then she knew it was time to seek counseling.
“It came to a point where I’ve had thoughts about harming myself. But it came to a point where those thoughts were pretty constant, and I also had thoughts about suicide,” Dupee said.
While both students have sought out counseling in person, there’re new sites developing to offer self-training tools to help people prevent those negative thoughts from forming. These websites use Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
CBT is a hands-on form of therapy. The goal is to help change patterns of thinking or behavior that are the source of people’s difficulties.
Kylie Bennett is the managing director of Ehub Health. For the past 15 years, she developed and evaluated online mental health programs such as the online counseling site moodgym.
“What it can do is help prevent depression and anxiety symptoms from manifesting or getting worse,” Bennett said. “So it’s not a replacement for seeking other help, but what it does do is help you to just get a handle on some of the language around your thoughts and feelings and how you might manage those.”
Since 2001, research groups around the world have evaluated moodgym for various trials. Moodgym is effective in reducing hazardous alcohol use and suicide rates in high-risk populations and increasing the overall well-being of its users, according to the official website. Evaluation studies also suggest that moodgym is a viable option for those who cannot access face-to-face therapy and for those waiting for traditional services.
While sites like moodgym offer valuable resources, the sites aren’t usually monitored or overseen by a licensed professional.
Jamie Broaderick, a psychology professor, has worked in private practice for six years. She believes there are advantages and disadvantages to online counseling sites, but her main concern is there isn’t a trained professional for those who have mental health concerns.
“I definitely think it would be best for the person to use those tools in between therapy because usually therapy is once a week or twice a week just for an hour or two. So you want to fill the rest of the time with maybe homework or other strategies,” Broaderick said. “I think it could be really useful to have them go out, find worksheets, look up tools and things like that.
But I do think it would be best paired with the oversight of a licensed professional.”
When it comes to online sites, there’s always the risk of hackers obtaining or leaking private information.
“My only concern is that privacy is something I’ve always considered of when you are on the internet because obviously there’s different ways for people to get information, and it’s such an open space, so you don’t really know if your stuff is really secure,” McIntosh said.
However, when it comes to those having difficulties meeting with a counselor, it might be a helpful first step in the right direction.
“I think it could definitely be a good thing depending on where you are in your mindset. It’d probably be best to start off with something like that just because [some people] may not even be in the right mindset to even go see a person,” Dupee said.
By Morgan Therrien