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Exploring the development and maintenance of therapeutic relationships through e-Health support: A narrative analysis of therapist experiences

Parry, Sarah and Wood, Matthew and Wilson, Hannah (2021) Exploring the development and maintenance of therapeutic relationships through e-Health support: A narrative analysis of therapist experiences. Medicine Access @ Point of Care. (In Press)

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Abstract

Objective Amidst COVID-19 disruptions, e-therapy has become even more essential and has rapidly expanded across statutory, private and third sectors to meet growing demands for digital mental health support. A challenge in digital therapeutic care is how to develop and maintain a supportive, collaborative therapeutic relationship, built upon mutual trust and respect; intrinsic values of relationships that are often implied through complex non-verbal cues. Online practitioners are eager to learn how to adapt to online delivery, although platform-specific training is limited. The aim of the current study was to focus upon the therapist experience of online therapeutic relationships with young people, exploring a range of factors through their perspectives, including the impact of anonymity. Methods Eight e-therapy practitioners were recruited from Kooth, an online mental health service. Narrative interviews undertaken via Skype facilitated reflective conversational one-to-one discussions, based upon the practitioners’ individual experiences, led by the interviewee. Following transcription and anonymisation, a narrative analysis was undertaken to explore participants’ experiences, perspectives and reflections. Results Four analytic layers arose from the narratives, which explored the challenging learning experience of translating existing therapeutic skills to online working, rapidly building therapeutic relationships, managing risk in the online therapeutic relationship, and techniques for maintaining a digital therapeutic relationship. Conclusions The study provides novel insights into the flexibility and adjustments therapists can make to improve online interventions and delivery through the development and maintenance of positive therapeutic relationships. Recommendations are also made in relation to platform-specific training, communicative adaptations, risk management and practitioner support.

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