December 22, 2014
Ithaca, NY 33°F | Clouds

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Student therapy may work online

The Center for Counseling and Psychological Services at Ithaca College is supposed to be a resource for students seeking mental or psychological help. According to some students, they have faced long waiting periods, making the appointment process frustrating. But a new online program could change the way counseling and therapy is done within higher education institutions, including the college.

In Fall 2013, the Counseling and Wellness Center at the University of Florida launched an online counseling program called Therapist Assisted Online. Geared toward students with anxiety, the seven-week program has patients complete cognitive exercises, receive encouraging text messages and video chat with a counselor once a week. The staff of the center was overwhelmed by the demand of counseling services, which prompted the launching of TAO.

The results were positive. The 26 students enrolled in the TAO pilot program made better progress battling anxiety than those in individual or group therapy sessions. Participants chose when to complete their daily tasks rather than working their day around an in-person appointment. It also allows students to keep their treatment private from counselors, no longer having to sit in public waiting rooms, which can reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

However, there are limitations to TAO. According to counselors at the University of Florida, TAO should not be an option for patients who benefit from one-on-one sessions to work through their struggles with illnesses like depression. Online programs such as TAO can also cause jurisdictional problems. John C. Norcross, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, said having the patient and counselor in two different states can result in a “malpractice nightmare,” because each state has its own mental health regulations and laws.

But if students are facing up to two weeks on a waiting list for counseling services, an online option could reduce the long waits, making both the patients’ and counselors’ lives easier. And because CAPS emphasizes short-term counseling services on its website, a seven-week program like TAO fits the criteria.

Of course, an online program would never replace the need for in-person counseling or depression and suicide prevention services offered on campus. The University of Florida plans to expand TAO to offer counseling for eating disorders, substance abuse and relationships. By increasing the use of online counseling, colleges and universities could pave the way for future application at private practices and hospitals.