Loopholes in Existing Online Therapy Platforms
The current condition of Online Mental Healthcare providers in India and world over, is one that is riddled with gaps in communication and problems on both ends of the platforms. A solution to these issues is urgently required.
Online mental health care platforms have come up as industry with great a potential and purpose of spreading awareness about mental health and in increasing the penetration of professional therapy to regions where it is not accessible, especially in the times of the Coronavirus when due to frequent and unpredictable lockdowns, mental healthcare had to be put on the back burner. There was of course the question of whether or not the same amount of comfort and openness would be possible through the online means as it is sitting on the therapist’s couch in person. In most circumstances, online therapy has been able to overcome this doubt, and has only increased a person’s convenience. However, putting aside this query, there have still been numerous challenges with online mental health care, accentuated by the interface and policies of some of the leading online therapy providers.
Expenses: Online therapy does not require the same infrastructure, ambience or conveyance costs that are part and parcel of attending therapy in person. However, the average cost of an online session in India remains around ₹1500 to ₹2000, which is roughly the same as its offline alternative. These costs should have been regulated according to the services and infrastructure required, but they are not.
Interruptions: Online platforms of mental healthcare in India use third party video calling applications to connect therapists with clients. However, these links are sloppily managed, leading to frequent interruptions by either the app malfunctioning or other clients sending joining requests. This can interrupt the flow of conversation and expression, and negatively affect the entire session.
Disorganized Schedule: A disorderly schedule of appointments is unfavourable to both parties of a therapy session — the therapist and the client. Appointments are changed last minute, therapists are not given much notice of their sessions. A disorganised schedule often leads to one party being unavailable for the session and still getting charged for it.
Identity Falsification: Online platforms often hold certain schemes of free sessions or discounted sessions for students/persons of a particular age bracket. However, many therapists testified to having received session requests availing such schemes from people whom these programmes were not applicable to. This happens because of a lag in the verification process of the applicants for such schemes. It puts the therapists in a difficult position and incurs them a loss of time, money and energy.
Prank Calls: Petty as it may sound, professional therapists still deal with prank calls wasting their precious time. Platforms that promise free first sessions without conclusive verification of a person’s identity make their therapists vulnerable to receiving calls from people who do not consider mental healthcare a serious matter. This not only creates chaos in the therapists’ schedule, but also brings down morale and is an extremely unprofessional con of providing online therapy.
Privacy Concerns: Since most online mental health care platforms use third party applications to conduct therapy sessions and connect the professional with the client, they end up giving out the personal contact information of the therapist, like their Email address and contact number. This becomes a major privacy concern on the part of the therapist because it makes them susceptible to informal and unwanted calls and messages. Serving their clients in the professional capacity goes at risk when their personal information is revealed.
Feedback/Reviews: A major feature of online therapy that assists a user in choosing a suitable therapist for themselves is that of viewing the feedback and reviews left by other clients of the therapist on their profile page. One of the leading online mental health care platform in India, however, only allows the user to view no reviews or few of the top reviews left by clients for any particular therapist. This shadows and effectively hides any negative feedback left for the therapist. Their ratings also are simply showcased in the pictorial format, with no numerical value associated with it. This makes the entire purpose of leaving reviews moot.
With an active increase in users and the potential for an alarming rise in coming times, there is clearly a need for a platform that addresses these concerns in order to make online therapy a truly viable option for users to consider at par with offline therapy.