Over the last few years, Internet has become an integral part of daily life. An abundant source of information and a principal gateway of communication between individuals, Internet has been continuously gaining considerable ground as a tool of awareness and intervention in the area of public health. With regard to the field of mental health, Internet exhibits a credible potential in facilitating dialogue not only between experts and their beneficiaries but also between stakeholders. Moreover and with regard to various aspects of public concern, it can serve as a circulation portal of educational material between students and teachers. The advent of remote support services dates back in the decade of 1970-1980. In the present time, they consist of informative guides and self-help groups or online counselling. The latter is defined as the process in which both parties, namely the therapist and the client, are involved in an oral or written conciliation through means of an internet connection, videoconferencing, live chat or e-mail exchange. The benefits of this practice – accessibility, relocation, convenience, anonymity, facilitation of face-to-face psychotherapy and low cost – could make online counseling, in specific cases, the treatment of choice. While the usage of the World Wide Web seems promising for the rectification of mental health disorders, there is some debate among experts regarding the ethical aspect of practicing psychotherapy in an interactive digital environment. Issues such as technical expertise and the tackling of related problems, difficulties in the diagnostic process, interchange of verbal and nonverbal cues, crisis management, safeguarding the therapeutic alliance, protection of personal data, age restriction, keeping boundaries in relation to the setting, the time and the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship and, finally, training and supervisory process of online therapist, are some subjects of disagreement. Relevant research reveals the effectiveness of online counseling in decreasing the magnitude of reported symptoms, with a direct positive impact on the improvement of daily functioning and on future relapses. However, the usefulness of developing a therapeutic relationship through internet connection is being criticized by a group of clinicians, with their main arguments revolving around spatiotemporal issues and the reliability of incoming information. Some other researchers correlate the therapeutic alliance concluded in the context of electronic communication with a positive therapeutic effect. The data on the effectiveness of online practice are not sufficient to draw a definite conclusion. In an era of direct and rapid communication, it is imperative to encourage further research, for the determination of optimal conditions with respect to the practice of internet-delivered psychotherapy and the patients’ well being as a result of treatment.
Key words: Online counselling, internet-delivered psychotherapy, ethical practice.
O. Giotakos, E. Papadomarkaki (page 127) - Full article (Greek)