Are mental health practitioners embracing telehealth?

Posted by ACAP on 10 June 2020

A new study conducted by Associate Professor Vikki Knott from the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) reveals the attitudes of Australian psychologists towards the delivery of therapy via video conferencing technology (VCT).

The study, involving researchers from ACAP and the Australian Catholic University, published in the journal Australian Psychologist, examined data collected from Australian Psychologists via interview.

Changing the way we deliver therapy

Prior to COVID-19, research suggested that psychologists were reluctant to engage with VCT to deliver therapy. Since COVID-19, many practitioners have been required to change the way they deliver therapy, and many psychologists are now routinely using VCT in their daily practice of psychology. 

The study identified that prior to COVID-19 psychologists’ attitudes varied in the extent that they embraced or resisted the use of VCT. Embracers reported ‘feeling comfortable’ with VCT, and cited a range of benefits for clients, including: improved engagement in the therapeutic process, reduced disruption to their private/working lives, and improved anonymity.

In contrast, resisters reported ‘feeling uncomfortable’ with VCT and sited a range of limitations which include: a lack of interpersonal connection, reduced abilities to detect non-verbal cues, difficulties conveying empathy and establishing rapport.

The study found that key barriers potentially underpinning psychologists’ reluctance to use VCT, included a lack of training in e-health, and concerns regarding the security of VCT platforms and managing risk.

Study author Dr Vikki Knott from ACAP said: “We envisage that this study will provide important information regarding how to reduce barriers to VCT use amongst psychologists and other mental health practitioners throughout Australia.

“Interestingly, we found that those psychologists who expressed strong values pertaining to ensuring the needs of vulnerable members in our community are met, indicated a willingness to work through their own sense of discomfort experienced during the delivery of VCT to ensure the client received the services they required.”

Feeling comfortable with VCT

The study identified the need for training to improve knowledge and awareness of VCT, including its evidence base, along with experiential training in using VCT during post-graduate training programs.

Dr Knott said: “It is important to support our new trainees gain confidence so that they may consider using VCT in order to address the needs of those Australians who have difficulties accessing face-to-face services.”

Recently, Dr Knott delivered an ACAP Industry and Alumni webinar to over 300 registrants. The aim of the webinar was to teach mental health practitioners, new to Telehealth, ways in which to adapt their therapeutic approach to telehealth.

Dr Knott said: “I hope that practitioners are now feeling more comfortable with VCT and that some may be encouraged to continue to use VCT to delivery therapy post COVID-19.”

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