How online counselling can help patients
From Elaine Bousfield, founder and chair of XenZone, provider of online counselling services via local authorities
While for a lot of us GPs are our first port of call when we want to feel better, for adolescents struggling with their mental health, things aren’t so straightforward. It is even more difficult for those who don’t have parents to support them in getting there. It is because we know early intervention works best that we make sure we liaise closely with GPs and work alongside them when possible.
We provide online counselling for children and young people in over 38 local authorities and CCGs. So as well as providing leaflets and cards that can be picked up at GP surgeries by young people or, more commonly, concerned parents, we also, with permission and when necessary, support those young people who need to see their doctor.
It might be, for example, that a young person has rising levels of depression and we can encourage them to make an appointment to see their GP. Often we will support them to make the call. Some may have agreed to see their doctor regularly to check on their progress. Our counsellors can support the GP’s request by helping the young person before and after the appointments, tracking and discussing their progress together.
We will regularly talk to GPs about our service, show them our Kooth website, how it is safeguarded and inform them of the clinical skills of the therapists. Because we’re funded through CCGs and local authorities, GPs have the added security of knowing we’re part of the overall NHS provision of mental health support.
Because young people don’t tend to see their GP frequently, they cannot be described as adding any additional pressure on local health services. However, if they are not supported early enough, they may well see their doctor later in life for more serious issues.
To this end, we also have an online counselling service - Qwell - specifically for adults. Our focus here is on encouraging people to come to us for support with longer term mental ill-health, which can alleviate GP demand and waiting lists.
It is my belief that we should be working in tandem with doctors to make sure there is immediate, free support for those who need it. Technology isn’t the only answer, but for teens who might be struggling with embarrassment or stigma or for adults who need immediate longer term help, then digital counselling has a huge role to play in helping people feel better.