Mental Health

Emotional Wellbeing

Psychology

Therapy

Mandy Kloppers

Why online therapy organisations are letting their therapists down

online therapy

 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we deliver therapy has changed substantially. As a result of the pandemic more clients are receiving their therapy online. Companies have also capitalised on this change by employing many therapists to work remotely, helping those in need with regards to their mental health.

Remote working is damaging therapist’s mental health

I have been a therapist for more than 20 years and this new dynamic has definitely taken a toll on me. Therapists are trained to deal with all types of mental health issues. These range from anxiety and depression to obsessive compulsive disorder and trauma. While it can be incredibly rewarding work it also has the propensity to affect therapist’s mental health if not carefully managed. Therapists are encouraged to engage in regular self-reflection and to take time out when they feel they’re getting burned out. It is well known that many mental health experts seek out work in the mental health field due to some type of personal experience related to mental health. It might be that a parent had an issue or a sibling suffered with addiction. There are many reasons that therapists become mental health experts. The research I have carried out has shown a higher percentage who have personal first-hand experience of mental health problems. Prior experiences often make therapists/counsellors more adept as they have the prior understanding and empathy.

The way the system is currently set up, many therapists work long hours from home with very little support from some of the online therapy organisations that they work for. Not only is the work very isolating, there is often very little feedback from the company that employs them.

Lack of support for therapists and counsellors

I have found that, despite these companies specialising in mental health, they do very little to support the mental health of their therapists. In fact therapists often get forgotten when they should be highly considered for the important work that they do. You rarely see therapists striking over low pay. In fact you rarely hear anything from therapists as a group.

Online therapy organisations also tend to let you know when you have done something they don’t like but there is never any positive feedback. Online therapy is sometimes a thankless job and you have to be skilled at managing your own emotions, as you are regularly left to your own devices.

Going forward I would recommend that online therapy companies work according to a hybrid model where there is at least one day per week that includes contact with other mental health professionals. Therapists need that interaction to stay balanced and to not get burned out too quickly.

If there are any online therapy organisations reading this, I would recommend that there is a group chat room for therapists to liaise with each other and that a regular newsletter be sent out to therapists. The newsletter could includes stats of the common types of mental health issues that have been dealt with, the general success rates etc. Inclusion helps therapists to feel they belong rather than being a ‘rat in a remote laboratory’. Working in mental health is highly demanding and therapists are human. We need support just like any other workers, in fact – probably more so considering the strain of dealing with problems. We aren’t robots and dealing with the underbelly of society on a daily basis can be gruelling.

The mental health problems that we deal with include but are not limited to:

High risk clients who are suicidal or who self-harm – this places is a lot of pressure on  therapists to safeguard their clients or patients. In addition, high risk patients have to be dealt with remotely which adds to the pressure. It is not always clear who will support the client when you cannot be there.

Individuals with depression and/or high anxiety seek out therapy and often place a high amount of responsibility on their therapists to ‘fix’ them.

Individuals experiencing relationship problems also seek out therapy and a therapist is only as effective to the degree that their clients are willing to do the work and take responsibility for themselves.

Therapists deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder as well as individuals dealing with long term chronic pain (to name a few). I have also dealt with clients who are experiencing a functional neurological disorder. In this instance the symptoms are vague and a specific diagnosis isn’t clear.

Protocols need to used creatively and therapists need to be resourceful to manage the complex and varied issues that clients bring with them. Several therapy-based protocols can never sufficiently address the myriad complexities of human suffering.

Negative energy is contagious

When you are dealing with negativity every day that energy affects a therapist’s mental state. Despite the psychological potential for damage, there is very little support to help therapists stay balanced, happy and healthy.

I would like to see more important being placed on therapist’s mental health. Therapists are often overloaded with too many clients and they are generally expected to completed all the necessary work within six one-hour sessions. Even therapists dealing with more complicated and serious issues are limited to this time-frame. Complex issues such as trauma, depression and personality disorders absolutely require more than 6 sessions. Our clients complete questionnaires for each session that they attend and therapists are required to lower the questionnaire scores sufficiently to enable their clients to enter into the recovery phase.

Rigid treatment schedules

It’s almost like a sales job in some ways and it is bizarre to equate and confine mental health to a points system and a strict time limit. Some online therapy organisations do allow extensions of therapy sessions but it can leave the therapist feeling they have failed if they cannot complete the treatment within the allocated six sessions. As there is no context or feedback, therapists can make negative assumptions about their performance compared to other therapists whom they never see, or talk to.

There is a lot for therapists and counsellors to contend with and the negative energy that they face undoubtedly effects their quality of life. Therapists would be even more effective if there were more robust systems in place to protect their wellbeing and regular communication about how their efforts are being received in the greater context of the organisation. Therapy companies offer therapists feedback on their personal performance – good, poor and so on but that is all they receive.

There need to be more emphasis placed on how therapy work affects therapists over time and relevant safeguards should be put in place. The companies that acknowledge the importance of this and who nurture their staff will be the organisations that come out on top in the long run.

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