Live, online cognitive behavioural therapy, provided by Cambridge–based PsychologyOnline, should be integrated into the current mental healthcare system treating both serving military personnel and veterans, a leading military psychologist has insisted.
Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, the former head of clinical psychology at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and now director of the Institute for Veterans and Families Studies at Anglia Ruskin University, believes the live online therapy is “ideally suited” for use in the military.
He says: “I’ve been interested in the potential of online therapy for some time. There is often a resistance to seeking face-to-face therapy among military personnel, and this type of therapy can be delivered in private as part of the range of therapeutic options available to mental health professionals.
“As such, it also has particular benefits for those on deployment, who do not have ready access to a military psychologist. For example, troops stationed overseas in Afghanistan or elsewhere have regular access to the internet and could easily access a therapy session.”
Depression, anxiety and alcohol dependency are the most common conditions affecting British troops* and about 4% of veterans will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Recent figures from the MoD reveal cases of this condition have doubled in the past six years.
Evidence from a separate study† also found that mental health problems still have a perceived stigma and embarrassment. Seeking help in a face-to-face environment means that some ex-service personnel are often not accessing the support they need when they need it.
PsychologyOnline provides one-to-one access to a therapist via a secure online consulting room. The innovative therapy can be accessed throughout the UK via Thinkwell, it’s paid for service, or “on prescription” from some clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).
In clinical trials the text-based approach to CBT has proven to be particularly beneficial for those with severe depression as it allows the patient to reflect on their problems as they write them down for the therapist. This often results in “light bulb” type realisations that can bring rapid resolution to entrenched problems.
PsychologyOnline was recently adopted by Surrey Mental Health CCG Collaboration as part of a portfolio of therapy services to improve access to mental health therapy. Doctors in the county say it is proving popular with men as therapy can be accessed from the comfort of home, in the evenings and weekends, with relative anonymity and confidentiality.
Reservists and veterans still currently experience “fragmented” and inconsistent access to therapy, according to Prof Hacker Hughes, although provision of services, and their coordination, is gradually improving.
He also believes routine mental health assessment screening of new recruits could help to reduce the numbers of service personnel who go on to develop mental health conditions both during and after military service.
He insists: “I’ve always said we should screen as this would provide a baseline assessment of all new recruits, particularly younger people. The current policy in the British military with regard to screening is that we don’t do it and have never done it, unlike most of our Allies. This policy hasn’t been reviewed with the benefit of current knowledge to date.”
For more information on PsychologyOnline and their private service Thinkwell™ visit www.psychologyonline.co.uk.