I’ve worked in the mental health field in one manner or another for over 30 years and I am struck in the changes that have surfaced. In the past services were considered for those with significant mental health issues, now many people are seeking help for more common, but nonetheless difficult, life struggles. Where in the past there was pressure to handle your own issues and keep to yourself, now there is less of a stigma attached to seeking help. And the most interesting difference over the course of my career is that our population has grown more comfortable using technology, like texting, social media, or email, to communicate with the world around them. Even my mother, now in her 80’s and who grew up when the television made it’s debut into homes in the 1940’s, has mastered texting with emojis. (I’ll forgive the occasional confusion of using the poop emoji for a chocolate kiss.)
So it is without surprise that eventually counseling services can be offered up in a way that people are becoming more and more accustomed to communicating. Counseling through a computer, as opposed to face-to-face, has obvious benefits. We are reaching more and more people who previously felt services were inaccessible. No longer the need for transportation or the time and cost required to travel. No longer facing the “dreaded waiting room”, and as one of my clients phrased it, silently wondering of the others “what are you in for?” Privacy and accessibility made technology assisted counseling a preferred choice for many.
As a counselor, Technology Assisted Counseling, did require some adjustments in the way I serve clients. I had to accommodate for the limited non-verbal and subtle body cues to help me assess one’s mood. But a surprising plus side was the surfacing of direct verbal or written communication about what was happening with my client. As I ask questions like, “What are you doing with your hands right now?” or “Tell me about your breathing while we talk about this”, it was suddenly apparent that I was not the only seeking to understand my client, but most importantly, he or she was developing self awareness.
But just as counseling is becoming more accepted and more accessible, there are still many who have not accessed help. According to the Anxiety Depression Association of America (adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics), 80 million Americans suffer from anxiety (18.1% of our population) but only 36.9% of those suffering receive help. Those are surprising statistics. Especially given that we don’t have to endure these disorders because they have proven to be highly treatable.
So there is more work to do to make sure accessible and research-based services are available to those who need them. If you are struggling in life, know there is help that can make a significant difference, sometimes just a click away.