A Look into the Online Therapy Industry

Check out this fascinating article on the online therapy industry as it pertains to mental health and suicide, courtesy of Susan Doktor from ConsumersAdvocate.org. (They do independent editorial reviews so you might want to check them out and dig deeper.) And no, I’m not being paid to post this. I simply think it’s important to get out there!

Few experiences are as terrifying or confusing for a parent as discovering your child is suicidal. And while you may feel you’re alone in the struggle to save your child’s life, statistics on child suicide tell a different story. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 through 24. Studies indicate that up to 24% of youth ages of 12 and 17 experience suicidal thoughts, and in a given year, 7 to 11% will actually go so far as to attempt suicide. The rate of suicide among children has also risen steadily over the past decade.

Sadly, as common as suicidal risk may be, few children will actually confide in their parents about suicidal feelings. There’s no single cause for child suicide, but suicidal thoughts often occur in conjunction with disorders like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Parents are the first line of defense in suicide prevention, so it’s important to educate yourself on the signs of suicidal risk in chidren.

If you suspect your child may be suicidal, the situation calls for urgent action. Seek out a specialist (for example your child’s physician or a certified child therapist) immediately; only a professional of this nature is qualified to perform a suicide risk assessment. Among treatment options for suicide prevention, Cognitive Behavior Therapy has been demonstrated to most effective in treating suicidal behavior but some children may require additional interventions — including psychotropic medications. These fall into four major categories: anti-depressants, anti-anxiety agents, mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic drugs and each may play a role in your child’s recovery.

Recently, there has been an upsurge in the number of people accessing therapeutic treatment online. However, suicide prevention is so serious a matter, online treatment is contra-indicated for children suffering from acute suicidal symptoms. Parents may consider it though, once a child has been stabilized and is concurrently being treated in a live, face-to-face setting.

Depending on the resource you select, online (or remote) therapy is administered via video-conference, telephone, text message, email and, less frequently, propriety apps developed by online therapy resources. Online therapy as an adjunct to traditional therapy for suicide prevention can offer advantages for parents and children who want to ensure their safety during a mental health crisis.

Online therapy can be conducted from any location, at any time of day. That gives online therapy a certain immediacy that traditional therapy may not offer. Children may feel they are “never alone” when online therapy is available to them. It can them a greater sense of control, privacy and self-determination—which are sometimes lacking in all children, but all the more in children who are experiencing extreme hopelessness.

What’s more, since so many children use electronic methods for casual, everyday communication, online therapy is a natural extension of their established skills. In a recent study, 72% of kids surveyed said they’d be willing work with an online therapist. Nearly 32% said they would prefer it to traditional therapy.

Online therapy is more convenient–and less stigmatizing for children–than making trips to a doctor or therapist’s office. It is typically less expensive than traditional therapy, particularly when you factor in fuel costs and the potential for work hours you may miss while accommodating traditional therapists’ schedules and transporting you child to and from sessions.) These can be important considerations when you are already paying for face-to-face therapy.

Not all online therapy services are alike, of course, and navigating the choices can be complicated. The online media employed during therapy, real-time accessibility and cost structures can vary widely. Most importantly, not all services employ therapists with the proper credentials to treat suicidal children. As is the case with traditional therapy, make sure your child is engaging with a duly licensed child therapist online.

Fortunately, as suicide rates have risen among children, the number of suicide prevention resources available to parents has concurrently increased. Education, support and crisis intervention are available both in your community, and nationally through these respected institutions:

Remember, too, that no one knows your child better than you do. Seeing your pediatrician regularly, checking in with your child frequently about his or her feelings, talking openly about mental health, and being alert to changes in your child’s mood and behavior are critical in preventing one of the worst crises a family can face. 

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Elisa Medhus

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