Can mental health care therapy work online? Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos at the University of Regina believes so. At the recent Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation's (SHRF) annual awards dinner Hadjistavropoulos was presented the 2010 Achievement Award in part for her research in and development of Internet Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.
Internet Cognitive Behaviour Therapy combines online therapy modules, including readings, video and audio, with online correspondence between therapist and client. This therapy method is the first of its kind in Canada and is demonstrating in practice the effectiveness and value of an internet-based, 21st century approach to therapy.
"Depression and anxiety are extremely common and faced by many people worldwide. Despite this, people with these issues are significantly undertreated," said Hadjistavropoulos. "We're looking to find methods to increase access to therapy."
One of the ways to do this may be through a new web-based system that Hadjistavropoulos and researchers are developing. "We've created a website for adults with anxiety, depression or panic disorder. They're screened to make sure that they're appropriate for this treatment method and are assigned to a therapist who works with them through the modules and correspondence," said Hadjistavropoulos.
Online therapy is aimed at breaking down barriers to accessibility in rural and urban areas by providing clients access to therapy according to their own schedules and from their homes, said Hadjistavropoulos. "Clients can use this service at anytime - in the evening, middle of the day, anytime they want - and their therapist will check in on them once or twice a week. It's almost like face-to-face treatment."
Hadjistavropoulos and her team are looking at educating psychologists, social workers and physicians on the advantages of online therapy. "In addition to training students, we're training therapists in Yorkton, Weyburn, Swift Current, Regina and Moose Jaw, so that they can log onto the website and use it with their clients."
By taking research on online therapy and putting it into practice, Hadjistavropoulos is looking to answer questions such as: Will clients use online therapy? What will their satisfaction be? How do you best train experts to use this therapy effectively? And what impact will the creation of an online resource have on decision making and policies related to mental health care in Southern Saskatchewan, and what are the barriers to using this service?
The 2010 SHRF Achievement Award adds her to a growing list of University of Regina SHRF Achievement Award recipients including Dr. Gordon Asmundson (2008) and Dr. Thomas Hadjistavropoulos (2006).
For more information on Heather Hadjistavropoulos' Internet Cognitive Behaviour Therapy program, visit http://www.onlinetherapyuser.ca/ .