E-clinics offer a wide range of services, from assessment of the condition to treatment and management
Manish Jain, 30, lost his father to a heart attack five years ago. And, the Delhi-based advertising professional slipped into depression. “I was very close to my dad. He was more like a friend. My girlfriend, who later became my wife, and I loved long drives. Knowing this, he would give us his car with full tank fuel,’’ he says. He could not cope with the sudden loss. “My work was affected. I couldn’t enjoy social engagements. I was missing from most of the places even if I was physically present,’’ says Jain, who once had a narrow escape from an accident during this period.
Jain made his first call to an online mental health clinic at midnight. “One thing I liked about the clinic was that I could get a session at my convenience,’’ he says. He got back to his normal self after five sessions. “The therapy helped me find hope when my life was falling apart,” he says.
Online mental health clinics, or e-clinics, have become the first choice for treatment for many people like Jain who are reluctant to personally go to a psychiatrist. They can now access a wide range of mental health services, from assessment of the condition to treatment and management, at their home.
“We hire best of mental health care providers and train them extensively for superior online delivery. One can access us at any place or any time in a completely private setting,’’ says Shipra Dawar of ePsyclinic, which deals with mental health issues related to work, relationships, caregiving, loss of loved ones, parenting, sexuality and pregnancy. It delivers services through video and audio calls, text chat and in-mailing.
ePsyclinic has done around 2,000 sessions in the past three months. Dawar stumbled on the idea while trying to help a friend who had a bout of depression. “He is a bright guy, an IIT and IIM alumnus, and I was really concerned about him as he developed the typical symptoms of depression,” she says. When she suggested that a few sessions of counselling might help him, he fumed. “Do you want me to quit my job and wait in a psychiatric ward all day long waiting for my turn?” he asked.
It struck Dawar. She figured out that access to mental health care is a huge problem in India. “The total number of psychiatrists in India is less than 5,000,” she says. “Also, we as a society place a lot of emphasis on how well we can control our mental and emotional state. Hence, there is an unwritten rule about not talking or discussing emotional or psychological issues,’’ she says.
E-clinics help save a of lot time and money getting rid of commuting and waiting at the clinics, says Dawar. They charge $500 to $1,500 an hour. Some of them do not charge for the first session. On an average, it is about half the money charged by brick and mortar clinics.
E-clinics' methods are tweaked to suit the medium. ePsyclinic, for instance, trains its providers to gauge a client’s online cues to formulate a strategy for treatment or management of the condition. The cues in an online conversation are different from those in the face-to-face conversation. “Even things like how fast the patient types can sometimes give indications on what frame of mind the patient is in,” says Dawar.
What e-clinics offer is not limited to plain counselling. Bengaluru-based startup HealthEminds.com has a panel consisting of psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors and life coaches. One can have a session with one of the experts in this online clinic through a secured video technology.
Despite their growing popularity, many people say e-clinics cannot provide the benefits of face-to-face interactions. “I believe it is important to verbalise your problem in a one-on-one session. Talking to an expert is therapeutic in itself,” says Archita Ravi, an IT professional in Bengaluru who had several episodes of memory loss last year owing to stress. She quit her job last year. At times, she gets anxious over whether she will ever be able to get back to work. She says that yoga, counselling sessions and psychotherapies have helped her keep her sanity. “Even a gentle touch by my therapist cheers me up and consoles me a lot. You’ll never get it from an e-therapy,” she says.
Also, online therapy may not be suitable for everyone. “Exclusions are suicidal urgency, severe psychiatric conditions like florid hallucinations and delusions or obsessive compulsive symptoms,” says Prachi S.Vaish, a clinical psychologist and founder of HopeNetwork.in, an online therapeutic network. “These are better dealt with when real life monitoring is possible. Also, minors are not recommended for online therapy unless parental consent is provided,” she says.
Vaish, however, believes that e-therapy is the need of the hour and will soon establish itself as indispensable. “After all, at one point of time, no one could imagine making friends online, could they?” she asks.
HopeNetwork.in has a team of five experts, with different specialisations. Vaish specialises in mental health problems related to the aftermath of extramarital affairs, sexual conflicts, gender issues, early parenting and anxiety disorders. Her colleague Ashwini Deshpande is an expert in personality problems in adults, parental training and behavioural issues in children.
HopeNetwork.in has experts also in neurofeedback, biofeedback, neuropsychological assessment and geriatric counselling.
While access to the e-clinic is a real boon for many people, there is a word of caution. “Make sure you know what you are looking for and that you choose truly qualified professionals based on their training, experience and expertise,” says Vaish.
Some names have been changed.