Aída María Rubio: "Online psychotherapy is heading towards consolidation".
We talked about the evolution of online therapy with Aída María Rubio, member of TherapyChat.
Online psychotherapy is a field of technological development that, despite being in its initial expansion, already has several years of trajectory. Years that allow us to learn about the possibilities and potential it offers in the field of mental health and psychological intervention.
In short, in many ways, remote psychological therapy services are still in a phase of rapid change, typical of the launching stage of a type of product or service. Where are these transformations heading? We talk about the evolution of online therapy with Aída María Rubio, health psychologist and coordinator of TherapyChat's team of psychologists..
Interview with Aída María Rubio: Changes and trends in online therapy
Aída María Rubio is a psychologist and coordinator of the team of psychotherapists at TherapyChat, an online psychology platform founded in 2016 in Madrid. In this interview, she talks to us about how in recent times the field of psychological assistance by video call has been evolving.
Are there still many people who have never heard of online therapy?
After this year of pandemic, there will be few people who don't know that almost all services can be moved online. Among the population interested in taking care of their mental health, there is little doubt that they will know about online therapy. But obviously this is a question that many people who have never had any interest in psychology are probably unaware of.
What is it that is making online therapy so popular?
The most obvious answer today is: the pandemic. We cannot deny that it has precipitated a boom in the use of online. Firstly, because during the total confinement we had no other option, neither therapists nor patients. But secondly because, although we already knew the advantages and effectiveness of online therapy, this situation has precipitated professionals and patients to experience it firsthand and overturn their prejudices. Not only that, but they are even enjoying its convenience.
Nowadays, online therapy is not only providing us with the advantages and comfort that we already knew before, but also other factors such as not having to be exposed in the middle of the pandemic to circulate in public transport to move to face-to-face cabinets; we avoid being in closed spaces, especially if the patient is afraid of the disease or related factors; and, of course, allowing us to do therapy without wearing a mask, which is not only a relief but also allows us to read the patient's non-verbal language much better and also to transmit more through our gestures.
Many patients have even preferred to continue using online therapy instead of returning to face-to-face therapy, even though it is possible. Once the myths about online therapy have been debunked, they have been more receptive to appreciating the time savings involved in moving to a physical location, and the sense of comfort and security of opening up their emotions from their own couch.
Needless to say, this therapy modality is now the preferred one for people who belong to the at-risk population, as it allows them to take care of their mental health while also taking care of their physical health.
Could the emergence of online therapy change our conception of what psychological therapy is?
I would not say something so radical. The therapy is the same, the psychology is the same, the therapists are the same. It is simply a matter of moving lifelong psychology to a different terrain. If we as therapists move from one office to another, we will certainly not find that our work changes. Online should be no different.
Yes, we need to be more creative and flexible in our methods; we need to refine some of our skills to continue to convey the same warmth to our patients; and there is a rush of research into online therapy as well as the creation of many very satisfying technological resources that allow us to make our online work richer. But in essence, therapy is the same, it has the same objectives, and for the patient it must mean the same thing: a path in search of wellness. This is the maxim that continues to guide us, whether we do therapy in the middle of the countryside, in a hospital, in an office or on a screen.
Bearing in mind that in the 21st century society and technological development are advancing very fast, what are the main changes and trends that you have noticed in the field of online therapy since you launched TherapyChat?
At first we were pioneers in Spain and there was hardly any competition. Moreover, we really had no comparison in terms of method since other services used chat or telephone, but we always opted for the video call because it was a much more genuine system and allowed a better alliance between therapist and patient.
Today, and especially since the beginning of the pandemic, online psychology platforms and derivatives are popping up around every corner. This actually encourages us to keep growing and polishing the platform to offer a better service to psychologists and patients every day.
We are lucky, it must be said, that we did not start a year ago and did not build a castle too quickly. Instead, thanks to the fact that we bet much earlier on this format, we have been able to grow in terms of technology little by little to have an absolutely secure platform today.
We know that currently more research is also being done to be able to adapt different techniques and treatments to the online format.
In this sense, everyone is getting up to speed, because online psychology is no longer the future, it is the present and it will stay with us from now on, it will not go backwards. For example, there are now trainings offered to adapt EMDR to online, and in the field of autism, very interesting programs are being implemented in online format. These are just a couple of examples of many.
From your point of view, which aspects of online therapy have a potential that can be further developed?
There is a whole world of innovation opening up right now. It is an untapped field to create good apps that allow a reliable assessment of the patient, to allow patients to keep a record of intersessional tasks, to support the implementation of certain techniques during the session, and so on and so forth.
How do you think online psychotherapy will continue to evolve in the coming years?
We often talk about this, not only internally but with many therapists in Spain and England. The prevailing opinion is that online therapy is not going away. Even if we come to the end of this pandemic, we have all seen the convenience of using online services and doing all kinds of things without having to travel or queue. In this we are no different from other services such as an online doctor, an online tax advisor, etc.
We are all on the same path because we live in a very busy society and we really have to respond to life as it is now, with realism and not with utopias such as extending the day 25 hours to be able to cover all our chores plus transfers included.
We already believed in what we were doing and now we are very happy to see that the rest also believe in it. Of course there will always be people who are reluctant or do not feel comfortable in the online environment, and that is absolutely respectable. Online psychotherapy will never seek to replace face-to-face therapy, nor will it ever be able to. There are people who must receive their therapy in person, especially if we are talking about serious mental health problems.
But we are sure that a greater percentage of the population will make use of online therapy. This experience is serving to normalize it, to demystify it and to make it warmer and closer than many mistakenly believed it to be. Perhaps it will even, hopefully, help to normalize therapy so much by making it more accessible and affordable, that in Spain it will begin to be better seen as a way to go to therapy.
On the other hand, finally many have seen its effectiveness first hand and that this was not a matter of believing or not believing, because since the 60s has been investigating the effectiveness of Telepsychology in all its formats and already has much scientific support.
Where is online psychotherapy heading? Towards its consolidation. It already has scientific backing, we have already opened the doors to it at the population level, we are already integrating it into our lives and professions and normalizing it? the next step is to consolidate it and from there grow it with more research and create richer resources that reach not only the private but also the public sphere.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)