Throughout my career, my caseload has included people who had difficulty getting themselves to counseling sessions because of issues such as young age, chronic pain, social anxiety, severe mental illness, chronic illness, sensory defensiveness, or a suspended/revoked driver’s license. In addition, single parents and parents who often shouldered sole parenting responsibilities because of their partner’s work (think airplane pilots, doctors in residency, military deployments, graduate school, etc.) found it difficult to take time for themselves to obtain counseling. The fact is that many people must overcome obstacles — for any number of reasons — to physically attend counseling sessions consistently.
Technology is a game changer. For some people, technology offers a life-saving means of seeking and obtaining mental health help whenever and wherever it is needed. And for younger generations, of course, using technology to communicate seems only natural.
Our society continues to change rapidly as we adapt to technological advances. It’s true that mental health technologies monitored by nonlicensed providers could lead to some troublesome outcomes. However, technology that is appropriately implemented could have an extensive positive impact, including increasing access to mental health services. Licensed professional counselors tend to be found in major metropolitan areas; the mental health workforce shortage is often felt most by rural communities. Telecounseling can assist with those living in rural areas. Likewise, the opioid epidemic has overwhelmed the resources of many small towns. This is one crisis — where there is a high demand for services and a short supply of mental health providers — that could be addressed through the provision of distance counseling.
Given the widespread prevalence of stress, mental illness, addiction and trauma in our society, professional counselors can harness the power of technology to provide prevention, assessment, treatment and wellness maintenance services to people in any geographical setting. Many people have grown up with smartphones serving as a seemingly necessary tool to function in life. For these individuals, obtaining counseling services through their mobile devices might seem like second nature. Thus, the counseling profession has opportunities to reach and connect with clients in novel ways through technology.
Furthermore, technology will play an even more pivotal role in research. I recently attended a National Institute of Mental Health conference that focused on global mental health research without borders. There, I learned how big data is being used to analyze larger databases and platforms to identify issues related to mental health that could not be seen on a smaller scale or with limited statistical analytic software. From the continued exploration of larger sample sets, coupled with biotechnology, shifts may take place in how symptoms are clustered for diagnostic purposes and treatment.
By attending the conference, I also learned how other mental health professions use technology to share resources among researchers, disseminate cutting-edge results, and support postdoctoral students through research collaborations both nationally and internationally. The counseling profession would benefit from having larger evidence-based research studies and from building a stronger support system to advance research conducted about professional counseling that could then be used for improved services and legislative advocacy.
Technology will become more integrated into our professional development, supervision, counselor education, and delivery of direct client services. If you would like to network with other ACA members about technology in counseling or technology in training, consider joining one of the following ACA interest networks: 1) Counseling and Technology Interest Network or 2) Distance Learning on Counseling Education (see counseling.org/aca-community/aca-connect/interest-networks).
Finally, I want to strongly encourage all of us to utilize technology (such as VoterVoice — see counseling.org/government-affairs/actioncenter) to wholeheartedly advocate for professional counselors, the counseling profession, and those we serve in our communities and schools.