Behavioral therapists could soon be headed to a small screen near you.
Whether it's to attract new patients, improve public awareness or offer technical assistance and training, an increasing number of behavioral healthcare specialists are turning to video to carry their message to a larger audience.
"As a learning tool it's very effective and for therapeutic approaches that involve more psycho education like cognitive behavioral therapy, there's a lot of things that people can learn using these tools ," says Paul Schoenfeld, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the director of the behavioral health department at the Everett Clinic. "This is becoming much more ubiquitous."
The Everett Clinic produces educational videos on mental health topics such as the treatment of depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but the treatment teams have also created a video biography for each one of their therapists.
"In putting together these biographical videos—and even the educational ones—our goal is to try to introduce ourselves in a more dimensional way, maybe not three-dimensional but a two-dimensional way so that people can really get a feeling for the person that they might be coming to see," Schoenfeld says.
He believes the videos allow potential patients to select a therapist they feel comfortable with and helps break the ice for patients concerned about sharing personal information with a stranger. As an online marketing tool, the introductory videos help differentiate the Everett Clinic.
"We get great feedback," he says. "Everybody does things online these days, and it's easy for people at home to click on the website and look at these videos and make a decision about who they might actually want to call when they call to make an appointment."
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says it has turned to video in part to connect with a younger generation of people who've grown up using video and other technologies. According to a report by the U.S. Surgeon General, there are 4 million children and adolescents suffering from a serious mental disorder and an estimated 21 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 17 have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder that causes at least minimal impairment. That age group is also a population that spends a lot of time in front of a computer screen, so they are likely to respond to video tools.
Gary M. Blau, chief of the child adolescent and family branch at SAMHSA, says with such high numbers of youth effected by mental illness, there isn't enough capacity to treat them all, however video and other technology can be used as a tool to reach a greater number of people.
"That's what we are focused on at the same time we are cautious and looking toward some of our research colleagues to find out how this works, what are the best strategies, what can be done to evaluate the effectiveness because it is a fledgling area that we are now getting into," he says.
Rob Vincent, public health analyst, works on many of SAMHSA's prevention efforts including taking the lead on an underage drinking initiative. He says one of the keys to an effective video is not just in its quality and content, but also in its delivery mechanism. For instance, as part of the underage drinking initiative Vincent says, SAMHSA partnered with AccentHealth to offer its turnkey videos into 30,000 physicians' offices across the country.
"The reality is we have a lot of people sitting in doctor's offices everywhere and that's a perfect time to communicate to them because they are starting to think about what their healthcare is and make decisions on that," he says.
Public awareness isn't the only goal of SAMHSA video efforts. The organization also creates videos that are used to provide technical assistance and training for behavioral healthcare professionals and community organizations. For instance, SAMHSA created a series of videos called Larkin Street Stories, which offers tips and best practices for working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning homeless youth.
"They are used to generate this concept of best practices so in this particular case the video series can be shown to a provider organization and then they can talk about it. What are we learning? How are we doing this? Are we focusing on the right things?" he says.
Rethink Autism, a organization that provides educational intervention tools for the treatment of autism for teachers and education professionals, uses video-based curriculum and training to improve interaction between educational professionals and students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome.
Gene Bamesberger, associate director of special education for Denver Public Schools in Colorado, says the program, and the video based training, has been a valuable addition to their school district.
"That's the modeling piece, so I think you can talk and talk but to actually see it implemented with kids, gives everybody that coaching piece that shows how we can do it," he says.
In particular, the video aspect allows the district to offer educators broader education and support.
"Our teachers aren't prepared as they should be and nor do we have the ability to necessarily provide them intensive coaching and support and so this is kind of a triage. It doesn't replace side by side coaching, but it's a triage until we can get somebody there," he says. "It gives people some ideas and suggestions."
Money well spent