Mental health online refers to the process of providing mental health services, support and therapy using the internet. Sometimes called e-therapy, teletherapy, e-counseling or cyber-counseling, it is delivered through applications such as email, video-conferencing, text messaging or internet phone.
Online therapy is generally delivered through real-time interactions, such as phone conversation or video conferencing, but can also be provided in a delayed format, such as when using email messaging. While provision of therapy using these means has some limitations, it is nonetheless an important resource for certain types of users because of the accessibility and convenience of the method. The increasing prevalence of smartphones has also led to the development of apps on these devices for providing mental health online.
Delivery of therapy through communication over the internet began in the early 1980s and it has only grown since then. Today there are a great variety of sites offering free mental health advice as well as services delivered by private clinics. The growth in this type of mental health services has led to the formation of the International Society for Mental Health Online to provide information to the public about, and set guidelines for, the provision of mental health services via the internet.
Online therapy, while it presents some challenges, has generally received support from patients that use the treatments. Research has shown that delivering mental health services online is an effective method fro treating some issues and is particularly valuable for those that live in rural areas or other places where mental health services are difficult to access. Some studies have shown that for certain issues (such as anxiety, depression and emotional distress issues) patients showed better outcomes through online treatment than through traditional techniques.
People that are uncomfortable in traditional, face-to-face settings often benefit most from this type of treatment. Convenience, above all, is cited as the main benefit of online approaches although the unavailability, or unreliability, of the internet and the technology used to deliver these services is cited as the greatest drawbacks.
There are also issues with the regulation of online therapy providers since they can operate from anywhere in the world using the internet and this makes it difficult to enforce laws regarding requirements for education, training and certification of these providers. Although there are questions about the confidentiality of patient information, it is clear that people find online mental health provision a both convenient and economical means for receiving therapy.