A rising number of people are turning to the Internet for advice and assistance for their mental health. It is the newest — and possibly best — way to find therapeutic help from a practitioner. And this one fits into busy lifestyles where finding the time to regularly visit a therapist can be challenging.
It comes mostly in the form of exchanging e-mail with a trained counselor or talking with one, one-on-one, in a chat room. Chat rooms have gained notoriety as a place where teenagers go to spend hours dreamily swooning over the latest pop heartthrob or complaining how their parents are so unfair, but this idea does a disservice to the nature of chat rooms and what they can accomplish. For one thing, they are a cornerstone of online therapy, available to a patient 24 hours a day, because the Internet is never asleep.
The pioneers of this technology-fueled therapy are two counselors based in Vancouver, Canada, who used to work at B.C. Addictions Services. In the mid-1990s, they started to use their computers to counsel patients by launching Therapy Online, now an internationally respected site. They say that online therapy has significant benefits for patients. Alone at their computer, patients aren’t made uncomfortable by a therapist who is staring and judging them (a big reason why people give up counseling). Patients can live anywhere and virtually visit their favorite therapist who could live an ocean away.
Chatting and exchanging e-mail with a therapist creates an atmosphere where patients can share deep emotions that are at the root of their psychological problem. Being online eliminates body language, voice tone, and the in-your-face kind of situations that could arise in a therapist’s office and make someone less willing to speak out. A good online therapist will always figure out how patients are feeling, and look closely at any pauses in their writing or if they become cryptic in their prose.
Although many therapists and patients need the personal contact for a quality diagnosis, the rise of e-therapy is happening and it provides a unique opportunity for patients to get the help they need. It is the art of using talk therapy to root out the issues — one thing it cannot do, obviously, is utilize hypnosis, meditation and relaxation techniques. But it could be, for many people, a cure to their deepest disturbances found in their very own house.