“I could hang up if the practitioner was a prat”: Australian men’s feedback on telemental healthcare during COVID-19
By Zac Seidler, Michael Wilson, John Oliffe, David Kealy, John Ogrodniczuk, Andreas Walther and Simon Rice
Published 14 December 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to increased social, economic and political pressures that have significantly impacted men's mental health and in turn, has resulted in an uptake of telemental healthcare. Many barriers to men accessing telemental health services, such as restrictive opening hours, fixed service locations and waiting rooms may be ameliorated by telemental health services. No previous study has explored men’s experiences of telemental health care.
Research and findings
A community sample of 387 men participated in the study, with 62.3% reporting an experience with telemental health in the past. On average, men who had used telemental health were more satisfied with their experience than those who had face-to-face therapy.
Participants were also asked about the benefits and drawbacks of telemental health. Comfort with therapy, convenience and accessibility were the key benefits identified. Participants reported feeling comfortable and safe in their environment during telemental health treatment and appreciated the control and privacy that came with it. Participants linked feelings of control to the 'inherent distancing that comes with telehealth'. Another participant noted, 'I could hang up if the practitioner was a prat!'. The convenience of being able to schedule treatment at a time and place of their choosing, and the reduced burden of travel time was also commonly noted.
Conversely, the main drawbacks identified were technical limitations and the ‘impersonal’ nature of telemental healthcare. Participants reported difficulties with audio-visual lag, crosstalk, building rapport and missing non-verbal cues. One participant stated, 'it was awkward and difficult to accurately convey and read emotions'. Other participants also described challenges navigating blurred boundaries between their private and therapy space, describing sessions to be 'slightly reminiscent of every other zoom meeting'.
This study explores many benefits to telemental health for men, such as increased comfort, safety and accessibility. It also allowed them to access therapy without compromising other commitments. However, it is not without drawbacks, with participants describing the experience feeling disconnected as well as technical issues.
The results indicate the normalisation of virtual therapy and a clear scope for using telemental health amongst men. The authors also provide some considerations to therapists, such as gauging client preferences and catering to these where possible to mitigate drawbacks of both virtual and traditional mental healthcare.