Online Support for Disordered Eating
Reprinted from "Eating Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2002, No. 16, pp. 26-27
With the increase in technology in our modern world and many reductions to services in our communities, many health care providers and consumers are considering alternative modes of treatment for disordered eating. As the internet becomes more available, a question arises pertaining to what could be the best uses of this tool to augment traditional therapies. There are many differing opinions surrounding the use and confidentiality of online support.
What is Online Support?
Online support, also known as e-therapy, uses the power and convenience of the internet to allow simultaneous and time delayed communication between a client and a professional; or between individuals with common concerns.1 It’s about choices. It’s about accessibility. It’s about 24/7 availability.
Why Consider Online Support?
Along with the information and educational benefits of online information, there a number of specific situations where internet-assisted therapy is an attractive option.
Rural and Remote Locations
There are many individuals in rural and remote communities that could benefit from the connection of a therapist in another region that has experience with disordered eating. It is apparent that there is often a lack of services in rural and remote communities and the larger centres, too, are witnessing increasing shortages of experienced counsellors in the field of disordered eating.3
Support for Clients While Therapist is Unavailable
Online information and support can provide continuous support when a clinician is not available, so as to not leave the affected individuals with a gap in services. Although the support online will not match the impact of one-to-one counselling, it can serve to sustain the individual when one-to-one services are not available.3
Increase Networking Possibilities
Online support can provide networking and educational support for clinicians and helpers that can work collaboratively to best service their separate communities.
Pros and cons2
Benefits of Online Support
Limitations of Online Support
Options for Online Support
Email correspondence has many different forms. A client could exchange emails with a clinician over a period of time, or could ask a single question that could assist the individual in working through their concerns. This option also allows the therapist to ‘touch-base’ with a client between sessions, providing additional support without additional costs. In using email correspondence, it is important to note that this represents a vast difference between traditional forms of therapy and connection between individual and professional. Email correspondence is the most popular form of e-therapy and is often viewed as an innovative style of journal-writing.
Many groups provide peer support for individuals that are faced with the same challenges. Individuals can journal and ask questions to other readers, share thoughts and struggles, or support another individual through crisis with the use of discussion boards. It is important, as with all internet information, to ensure that you critically evaluate sites and groups.
Information and Self-Help
In general, these options allow individuals greater access to information and education. Individuals can read how others have coped or are working through recovery and they can read stories, poetry, articles, and research on disordered eating.4,5,6
About the authorHeather is a registered clinical counsellor currently working in private practice in the Lower Mainland. She completed her Master of Arts at Antioch University in Seattle, WA and has focused most of her studies in the areas of addictions and disordered eating. She has focused her work on the complexity of disordered eating, how to recognize the signs and the sociocultural influences that perpetuate negative self-image and poor body image
Grohol, J.M. (1999). Best practices in e-therapy: Definition and scope of e-therapy. Available online at www.psychcentral.com
King, S.A. & Moreggi, D. (1998). Internet therapy and self help groups: The pros and cons. In J. Gackenbach (ed.). Psychology and the internet: Intrapersonal, interpersonal and transpersonal implications (pp. 77-109). San Diego: Academic Press.
Nevala, A.E. (2000). WSU Program aims to reduce rural suicides: Higher rates away from cities blamed on less access to mental health care. Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Riemer-Reiss, M.L., (2000). Utilizing distance technology for mental health counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 22(3), 189-203.
Robson, D. (2000). Counselling online. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 28(4), 572-573.
Tait, A. (1999). Face-to-face and at a distance: The mediation of guidance and counselling through new technologies. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 27(1), 113-122