The Rise of Technology Therapists
Many things are practically unrecognizable from the beginning. More than a hundred years ago, most people still didn’t own a car, whereas today people drive around in their gasless, futuristic, self-driving contraptions. However, therapy in many ways has remained unchanged since Freud’s time (for reference, our good friend Sigmund also conducted therapy around the first time cars were made public).
Before the naysayers stepped in, yes, collectively, there has been a shift in therapeutic methods from outdated forms of psychoanalysis to behaviorally-oriented, solution-oriented, evidence-based practices that seek to equip consumers with skills and actions consistent with their values.
However, the format of therapy through the looking glass has not changed. On the contrary, therapy has become more complicated to deliver given the bureaucracy surrounding large organizations, the risk management issues that bog providers down with unnecessary paperwork instead of offering true human connection at the time it’s happening. most needed, questionable reimbursement practices by insurance companies, extremely low wages in any system outside of private practice, and lack of organizational resources to support providers in their work.
This has led to highly skilled therapists feeling overwhelmed and exhausted at a time in history when they are most needed by society. Therapy has also become harder to access for the ordinary person, who may not know the difference between the largely unregulated space of coaching (a valid and useful tool for people with low severity issues), a prescribing psychiatrist (MD), a social worker (LCSW) who specializes in connecting patients with needed community services, and a psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), or marriage and family therapist (MFT) ) providing therapy.
Additionally, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, few therapists provided services virtually due to the constraints of billing for “face-to-face” visits, organizational rigidities of the companies they worked for, and a general sentiment of unease as to “how” virtual therapy might even work. Many providers still believe that unless a consumer is physically “in the room” with them, there is no way to influence behavior, although many consumers do not have the time, resources or desire to show up “in the room”. ” in the first place.
Research into the common factors that make therapy “work” shows that it doesn’t. Alignment with the client, genuine empathy for someone’s difficulties without comparison, authenticity, and managing expectations are necessary but insufficient elements of therapy, although we now know that these elements can be transmitted and are transmitted successfully on virtual platforms.
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To complicate matters, we know that therapy is not a one-size-fits-all and different types of therapy will be more effective for different types of consumers. For example, dialectical behavior therapy, which teaches consumers skills in the areas of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness alongside family therapy, has been shown to especially effective for eating disorders.
Meanwhile, exposure and response prevention therapies are the gold standard for anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding, and even perfectionism. However, for consumers with chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, pain, or cancer, acceptance and mindfulness-based approaches, such as acceptance and commitment therapy , are generally the most effective. Additionally, the same behavior change principles that make therapy “work” for certain groups of people also translate to the general population by harnessing behavioral science.
Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have watched these gaps in care as well as the snail’s pace at which behavioral health has kept up with the times and turned it into a lucrative opportunity. In a recent survey of more than 100 therapists nationwide who are looking for work in technology, nearly half said they were looking for roles where they did not provide clinical services.
This preference points to the same crisis that exists with the nationwide teacher shortage, in that teachers are flocking to other professions that offer a more stable, favorable and balanced career option with reduced barriers. to efficiency. Highly skilled providers seek to use their behavior change expertise in innovative ways that displace entire systems of care rather than continuing to operate within the broken system.
Unfortunately for these behavioral experts and consumers, most of these therapists are not sitting in positions of power (read: C-suite leadership teams) to produce the kind of change they know is most needed. There’s more hope for health tech companies with behavioral health leaders or former therapists on their leadership teams. And for therapists who join these companies to continue offering services as providers, on its facade, these companies appear to be a boon to consumers who have desperately tried to connect with therapy and to therapists who are able to deliver the skill set they know best, while increasing their job satisfaction.
However, the flip side of these mental health tech companies is that many (not all, of course) only offer contract positions, they don’t vet or train their vendors in evidence-based practices, have tend to target new vendors with the lure of virtual work and continue to pay below-standard wages while top businessmen reap profits on your friends and family members.
While that might sound pretty grim, the good news is that behavioral health systems are taking notice. Leaders realize this. Suppliers take notice. Change is happening in mental health care, and it’s here to stay. Accessibility is increasing at a dazzling rate (not fast enough yet), with mobile health technologies being offered directly to businesses and consumers. Outdated care systems will crumble if the system doesn’t keep up with the times because therapists know they can go elsewhere to offer their expertise, and consumers will follow.
Perhaps 100 years from now we can look to our current pandemic as the catalyst for change in healthcare, and tech spaces will have increased representation by the therapists they rely on to make their offerings available and profitable in the first place. .
To find a therapist near you, visit Psychology Today’s Directory of Therapies.