Every time there was new progress in Technology and Artificial Intelligence, there were mixed feelings.
Some are scared and believe AI is going to take over the world. Some are scared technology will take their jobs. First the jobs at the lower end of the chain. Then the higher-paying jobs that require decision-making. And then it will be the end for creative people.
But what happened was quite the contrary. Now you can create sketches and write AI-generated articles in mere seconds. Creative people were targeted first. Then there are machines that do all the manual work for which people were required earlier. Every sector is affected by the introduction of new technology.
In this article, we are going to explore how advancement in technology is going to affect Telepsychiatry and mental health care. Are we going to have robots as doctors? Is AI going to replace therapists and psychiatrists? Will it be a good thing if it does? How can virtual reality contribute to the benefits of telepsychiatry? To explore the depths of all the possibilities, first, let us get introduced to what telepsychiatry is.
“Telemedicine, or telehealth, is the process of providing health care from a distance through technology, often using videoconferencing. Telepsychiatry, a subset of telemedicine, can involve providing a range of services including psychiatric evaluations, therapy (individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy), patient education and medication management” (-APA)
When technology and long-distance communication devices are used for providing mental health care, it is called telepsychiatry. It is clear from the above definition by the American Psychological Association that it does not only mean therapy but includes other services as well.
Patient education means the process of teaching patients skills and attitudes to adapt in their lives in order to deal with their illnesses.
Medication management is the process that involves planning which medication and dose are right for the patients considering their medical history and side effects for the best results.
You may or may not have heard the term ‘telepsychiatry’, but you must have heard the term ‘mental health’ and ‘therapy’. People are getting more and more understanding towards mental health issues and the struggles that come with it. But still, the stigma surrounding therapy is not completely gone.
Is it any different when it comes to telepsychiatry? What are the current benefits of telepsychiatry? That is what we are going to see in the next section.
2. What Are The Benefits Of Telepsychiatry?
Many studies show that telepsychiatry is a good alternative to traditional mental health care methods. But the mere definition is not enough to explain how one benefits from telepsychiatry. And in order to explore the possible future benefits of telepsychiatry we have to first understand the current ones.
2.1 Cost Effectiveness
As compared to travelling to different locations to talk to your doctors and psychiatrists, telepsychiatry is definitely cost-effective.
2.2 Easy Access
Good mental health care facilities are not available everywhere. And going far away from home whether there is a pandemic or not is not possible for everyone. This is where telepsychiatry is helpful.
Telepsychiatry not only saves money but also a lot of your time whether it is time spent waiting for your appointment or traveling time.
2.4 Easier Record Maintenance
Telepsychiatry is advantageous when it comes to record maintenance since the consultation is online.
2.5 Possible Anonymity
As sad as it is, many people do not seek help in fear of the social stigma surrounding mental health. The mental health helplines that allow the caller to remain anonymous might encourage those who wish to not be recognized.
3. Challenges In Telepsychiatry
Despite there being many benefits of telepsychiatry, it also faces some challenges that could be overcome with innovations that we will talk about later in the article. First, let’s understand what are some of the areas in which telepsychiatry needs improvement.
3.1 Lack Of Personal Touch
Even if it is consultation through video-conferencing, the barrier of the screen can sometimes be the cause of the lack of that personal touch that is present during face-to-face consultancy.
3.2 Difficulty Understanding Non-Verbal Cues
During therapy sessions, therapists constantly pay attention to the body language of the client to understand them better. But it could be a little difficult through a screen.
3.3 Possible Distractions
Therapy takes place in a calm environment which might not always be in control of the patient during a session through video or audio call.
4. What Is The Future Of Telepsychiatry
After all that talk about what telepsychiatry is and its benefits, here’s the fun part where we let our imaginations run wild. What could the future possibly hold for the benefits of telepsychiatry? Twenty years, thirty years, hundred years, what innovations will be there that will change how we know therapy today? Let’s see.
4.1 VR Technology Is Not Only Useful In Gaming
VR technology has been in use for mental health treatment for a while now. It is used in the treatment of PTSD, Anxiety and other related disorders. But have we reached our limits with VR for the benefits of telepsychiatry? I think not.
VR stands for virtual reality which enables its user to experience a virtual world that seems almost real. Imagine when there will come a time when VR has become so advanced that anyone seeking mental health care could use it according to their needs.
With enough research and experiments VR technology could allow you to create a virtual world of your liking that feels real. There are so many possibilities with advancement in VR. Let’s take a look at a few of them-
4.1.1 Getting That Closure
Psychodynamic theory is one of the most famous theories of all times which states that events of our childhood are the root cause of our distress today or at least have a vital impact on our adult life.
So where does VR come into play here? Think of a conversation or a moment that you have been holding onto for a long time, which only causes you pain. How many people are suffering today overthinking that they could have said or done something else at that moment?
Getting rid of that regret might help you to move on in life and stop repeating patterns that harm your mental well-being. With VR and the help of your therapist, you may be able to recreate that moment and find that closure according to your needs.
I am no scientist so I do not know how it will work, but I hope someday, with so much advancement in technology, we might be able to use VR and the power of our subconscious mind to recreate our history and this time, fully prepared.
4.1.2 The Power Of Subconscious Mind
The mention of subconsciousness reminds me of Freud’s widely accepted Iceberg Theory which states that our behavior is mainly affected by our subconscious mind. And most psychiatrists use tests and methods which bring the conflicts of that very subconscious mind to light.
If in the future scientists figure out a way that allows you to shape the virtual reality yourself while wearing a headset, your therapist could easily become a bystander and take notes to give you even better treatment for your troubles. Not just responses to pictures and sentences but creating a whole reality as a response could become a great diagnostic method.
4.2 Not All Robots Will Try To Take Over The World
We all have watched Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Transformers and other such movies. We all have the common sense that robots always attack. But that didn’t stop any scientist from trying to create a human-like robot with a mind of its own. So might as well use them for the benefits of telepsychiatry. Here are a few possibilities with the creation of empathetic robots.
4.2.1 Robot or Human? Find The Difference.
Unless you are living under a rock, you must have heard about Sofia, the first social humanoid robot citizen. She laughs, jokes, likes to make friends, and gives facial expressions accordingly. If humans have come as far as creating her, maybe someday they can also make robots that you can not tell apart from a human.
There are not enough psychiatrists and psychologists for the number of people needing mental health care. Maybe in the future, everyone will want to become a mental health care worker or maybe humans will succeed in training robots to be therapists and counselors.
And maybe it will be even better since a lot of people find it hard to open up to another human. A robot who responds empathetically helps learn new coping techniques and is not capable of a single ounce of bad judgment.
4.2.2 Why Bother With Real Friends When You Have AI
Introverts will highly relate to this heading. Nothing can replace the feeling of your true friend having your back but some people are just not fortunate enough to have one. But everyone has bad days and just needs someone to talk to.
Imagine an app that allows you access to a customizable “friend” to chat with whenever you are feeling down. An AI chatbot that is not only empathetic, understanding and helpful but also shares really funny memes.
This AI could help you by answering your questions about life or distracting you from life by talking about mundane things. You could have more than one of these friends and customize their personality according to your mood.
4.3 Holographic Communication
Holograms to explain in simplest terms are images in 3D space. Holographic communication has not been developed yet. But it will be in the near future. How is it going to increase the benefits of telepsychiatry? Let’s see-
4.3.1 For The Client
Sure talking to your therapist through video-conference is doable, but is it as effective? Maybe some people feel more comfortable with the barrier of a screen, but there are also people who are more comfortable with face-to-face sessions.
And holographic communication is going to make them feel like their therapist is sitting right in front of them. It is the benefits of telepsychiatry and conventional therapy combined.
4.3.2 For The Therapist
As I mentioned earlier, most of our behaviour is directed by our subconsciousness. And to understand the root cause of your distress, your mental health professional takes the help of many non-verbal cues, whether it is your unconscious fidgeting of legs or the way you sit in front of them.
Many of these non-verbal cues can go unnoticed unless your whole form is present in front of them. So holographic communication is going to make telepsychiatry even more of a success than it already is.
4.4 Mental Health Crisis Detector
Fitness watches are not news, but what about mental health fitness watches, or belts or any other gadgets. These innovations will be able to detect when your anxiety level rises or you are in need of a serotonin boost and your AI friend can contact you to help you get through.
Since many times people are hesitant to ask for help when in need, this gadget will bring the help to you without even asking.
5. Final Thoughts
So here were some of my imaginations of what the future will look like for those who seek benefits of telepsychiatry. Whatever may happen, let’s hope at least the stigma around therapy will be reduced to nothing. That could be a good start.
Mental health is very important and one must pay as much attention to his mental well-being as he takes care of his physical well being.
Feel free to let your imagination run wild and tell me in the comments what did you come up with that would change the face of mental health care.