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Patients have a positive view of online psychotherapy due to its lower cost and the improved access to professionals

Telepsychology is perceived as having several advantages over its face-to-face equivalent. (Photo: Vlada Karpovich, Pexels)

Teresa Bau

A study by researchers from the eHealth Center, the UOC Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili sheds light on the preferences of psychotherapy patients

The boost given to digitalization by the COVID-19 pandemic has helped spread the word about the potential of telepsychology among patients and professionals alike

"In a world that is seeing ever-greater use of ICT, it's important to understand what limitations we psychology professionals may encounter when carrying out therapy online and thus be in a position to adapt it into line with patients' needs and preferences", explained the authors of the research article Usage patterns of telepsychology and face-to-face psychotherapy: clients' profiles and perceptions, Beatriz Sora, researcher at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, and Rubén Nieto, Adrián Montesano and Manuel Armayones, researchers at the UOC's Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences and its eHealth Center. The research was based around a survey of 514 members of the public aged 18 and over, recruited via publicity on the internet.

The situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, which gave a significant boost to digitalization in all areas, including psychotherapy, has helped many familiarize themselves with the potential of online psychological treatment and therefore consider it as a valid alternative to the habitual face-to-face psychotherapy. The fact is that the basis for both types of therapy is the same, said Beatriz Sora: "Psychology leverages a range of scientifically-proven tools, approaches and techniques to tackle people's different issues, and these can be implemented irrespective of whether therapy is carried out online or face to face."


Experience with e-health, a determining factor in acceptance

According to the study's findings, telepsychology is perceived as having several advantages over its face-to-face equivalent, such as a lower monetary cost, the ability to receive therapy from home, and access to specialized treatment unavailable nearby. Nevertheless, some obstacles can also be observed. Sora said: "The difficulty in conveying emotions and feelings, in correctly perceiving non-verbal language, the fact of not being in close contact with the psychotherapist and technical issues are all factors that might make patients spurn online sessions, as we have seen in our study."

The study has shown that there is one kind of person who is more predisposed to accepting online psychotherapy sessions. According to Rubén Nieto, "prior experience with e-health and skills and abilities in this field are key when it comes to accepting telepsychology". For his part, Adrián Montesano noted that "there is also an influence from factors such as gender, age, education and economic standing. More specifically, we have seen that elderly women with a lower educational level and fewer financial resources tend to prefer face-to-face psychotherapy sessions, compared to younger men with more education and greater economic resources, who are likely to attend psychotherapy sessions less frequently."

Another factor is the perception of the seriousness of the psychological problem, given that people tend to view online psychotherapy as effective for less serious issues, while preferring face-to-face treatment for serious conditions. According to Armayones, "it's likely that each group needs to be approached differently and, given the degree of personalization possible in psychotherapy, therapist and patient can make the necessary adjustments to create the approach that provides the best fit with the latter's needs."


Telepsychology and the sustainability of the healthcare system

The challenge of caring for the public's mental health, particularly in these post-pandemic times, can (in part) be tackled using telepsychology, as more and more people are becoming open to online therapy. For the study's authors, "technology can help ensure the healthcare system's sustainability if properly used for both diagnosis and treatment. Obviously, though, there is a need for organizational changes and, particularly, to take on more clinical and health psychologists to provide a response to the public's growing need for specialized psychological care."

UOC experts

Photograph of Manuel Armayones Ruiz

Manuel Armayones Ruiz

Lecturer in the Psychology and Education Sciences Department
Researcher of the eHealth Center

Expert in: E-health; the Internet and health; e-patients; health in the future; the psychological impact of ICT; patient social networks; addiction; the Internet and new technologies; health and robotics; rare diseases and the Internet; online psychological intervention strategies; rare diseases and ICT.

Knowledge area: eHealth, eSalut, health and ICTs.

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Photograph of Rubén Nieto Luna

Rubén Nieto Luna

Expert in: Chronic pain research (assessment, risk factors and secondary prevention); development of online interventions for health problems (especially problems involving pain).

Knowledge area: Personality, psychological assessment and treatments, and health and the Internet.

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Photograph of Adrián Montesano

Adrián Montesano del Campo

Expert in: Models and change processes in psychotherapy, construction of self and identity, interpersonal relationships, sexual and couple therapy, family therapy.

Knowledge area: Personality, psychological evaluation and treatments, and health and ICTs.

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