How Innovation Helps & Limits Us In the World of Mental Health
In the world of mental health, trends toward de-stigmatization have opened countless doors for those who previously would not have had access to treatment. For people with social anxiety, agoraphobia, or difficulty with transportation, the advent of online therapy has provided the opportunity to get help in safer and more affordable ways. For those who are simply too busy to make it to an in-person appointment, seeing an online provider is a convenient option. For marginalized groups who have previously been harmed by social services, online therapy allows more autonomy over when, how, and who you see for a session.
So, what’s not to love?
The field of mental health and social services have never been quick to innovate. Online therapy existed before the pandemic, but the collective stress and isolation of the last few years have caused the industry to explore in popularity.
Many large online therapy companies have capitalized on the cultural shift toward de-stigmatizing the words “mental health.” These companies have invited celebrities and influencers to share testimonials about receiving online therapy and launched often controversial media campaigns that encourage people to seek therapy for common “issues” like not being able to stop scrolling through your phone or being worried that people don’t like you.
Aside from the ethical and legal concerns that online therapy introduces with the seemingly 24/7 availability of your therapist through texting and video chatting, the idea that therapy is the solution for all of life’s problems is misleading.
There is a place for therapy
At one end of the “mental health spectrum”, there are chronic and persistent mental health diagnoses that affect one’s ability to live and function, and require intensive treatment and usually, medication (schizophrenia, severe depression, PTSD, etc.) We have also begun to use the phrase “mental health” to describe individuals on the opposite end of the spectrum: people who are struggling to cope with the stress of life events, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one, or those who are struggling to process difficult or traumatic events from childhood.
The fact that mental health exists on a spectrum is one reason why seeking help has been stigmatized for so long. Individuals who are struggling to cope with the ups and downs of life often feel as if they are admitting to something being deeply wrong should they seek mental health treatment. But now that this stigma is decreasing, we are left with a new problem: therapy is seen as the go-to solution, no matter where on the spectrum of severity an individual falls.
We won’t bore you with a history lesson about the originations of mental health treatment, but it is important to know that the field has a long history of serving those in the most dire of circumstances. And while therapy can certainly benefit anyone, for those who are not experiencing severe symptoms or in the midst of a crisis, therapy truly isn’t always the most helpful option out there.
Maybe you’re going through a difficult break-up, you had a health scare, or you want to process your parent’s divorce that happened decades ago. Maybe you just feel like it’d be good to talk to someone who can remain objective. Therapy is one option in a wide array of possibilities for self-improvement. Life coaches and online communities have gained popularity as alternatives to therapy, but there is immense room for continued innovation.
While the general public is at risk of being misinformed about therapy and its effectiveness to address the normal ups and downs of life, the real call to action is not to the public, but to the field of mental health and social work itself. Of course it falls upon individuals to do the necessary research and learn about different options when it comes to their own healing journey. But it is time the field itself starts thinking more creatively about how to address the ever-changing needs of humans living in the modern world. We have the opportunity to develop new methods of healing connection and to redefine how we approach emotional well-being as a society, while drawing on the knowledge and experience that are our strengths.