Is e-therapy effective?
Meeting face-to-face is still better, but e-therapy can be effective, especially if psychotherapy is not accessible to you.
Working with a therapist online will never replace traditional, face-to-face therapy relationships. No one is suggesting that e-therapy is better. But thats not the point. E-therapy is not meant to replace traditional therapy; it is another way of caring, one that can reach people who are not getting any other help.
Does e-therapy help people? Yes. Over 90% of the people who work with a therapist online say that it helped them.
Online counseling is a viable alternative source of help|
when traditional psychotherapy is not accessible.
Many people cannot, or will not, go to a therapists office. For them, psychotherapy is not accessible. What keeps people from getting help?
- A person may be too embarrassed, or too uncomfortable to make an appointment with a therapist.
- A person may live in a remote area, far from any therapists office.
- Scheduling, money, physical challenge, conflicting relationships, or misconceptions keep people from seeking help.
If this describes you, e-therapy may be a place to start.
Some e-therapists provide psychoeducation, and that is obviously of value. Others provide emotional support, or guided self-help. Whatever they choose to call it, the relationships people form with therapists via Internet communication can be deep, authentic, and emotionally healing.
Many people who have experienced the depth and healing power of a traditional, face-to-face therapy relationship are very troubled by the notion of attempting such a relationship online. They cite some real challenges. The therapist cannot see you, and thus cannot interpret facial cues, voice tone and body language. The therapist doesnt have cues to discern what you are not saying, or how you are feeling about what you are saying. This is a real problem and it goes both ways. Theres a lot you dont know about the therapist, and a lot the therapist doesnt know about you.
Others are skeptical about the emotional depth that can be achieved through written words. They ask: how can you possibly form a relationship with someone unseen, on the basis of words typed on a computer??
Because of these concerns, many mental health professionals online limit themselves to providing information, and will not do more than exchange one informational e-mail with you. They dont attempt more, out of a sense of professional responsibility, because they feel that sufficiently deep, caring relationships cant be formed online.
On the other hand, the experience of other therapists says quite clearly that healing relationships can be formed online, and are, every minute of every day. Online relationships can have a remarkable intensity and intimacy, that is very real, and not imaginary.
One person wrote about the experience:
I am fairly knowledgeable about psychotherapy (for a layperson), and was fortunate to work with a very talented psychotherapist for several years, experiencing the full depth and richness of that experience. I also had the experience of corresponding by e-mail with another psychotherapist over a period of about six months. You should know what happened: I experienced deep emotions while reading and writing -- grief, anxiety, joy, love, rage, you name it -- and explored some very deep issues. I learned to trust and depend on this person. The therapist was usually able to sense my feelings from changes in my writing. Transference happened. The relationship was reflected in my dreams. I was challenged, comforted, and empowered. The experience was profoundly healing, and my life changed for the better.
Is that not a therapeutic relationship? I think it was.
Recent research has shown that the technique of psychotherapy is not as big a factor in your healing as the therapeutic alliance you form with your therapist. It is the relationship between you that heals.
It is quite clear that it is possible to form deep and meaningful relationships even on the basis of text-based correspondence, and these relationships can be healing.
In a recent survey of over 400 clients of online therapists, more than 90% responded that working with a therapist on the Internet helped them.
Keep in mind that the written word has great power. Have you ever read a mystery or romance novel, and gotten completely involved in the story? You probably experienced emotions in response to what you read. Similarly, people experience plenty of emotions in response to written words online. If anything, emotions tend to be amplified online (one has only to live through one flame war to learn that). On the basis of written words, people even fall in love on the Internet, every day. With aptitude and with practice, you and a therapist can learn to sense one anothers moods even via e-mail.
To be fair, I am very much aware that not all people have the inclination or the aptitude to form relationships with people they cannot see. Both the therapist and the patient must have certain qualities and commitments; and it doesnt work for everyone. But for those for whom it does work, it works in a very profound way. This truth should not be minimized... nor should any of the concerns. That is the nature of exploring a new frontier.
Opinions of others
For well-informed and opinionated views on the subject, consult these links. Each is a reputable psychotherapist with useful things to say, and each is a provider of Internet mental health services.
- John Grohol, Psy.D., founding President of ISMHO:
- Yvette Colón, ACSW reflects on her experience running a therapy group online, and compares and contrasts it with the face-to-face version.
- Gary Stofle, ACSW, CASAC, CSWR has some thoughtful reflections on online therapy.
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