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In-person Therapy Versus Online Help

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Therapy

As a therapist, I work face-to-face with patients to help them solve their problems and heal from emotional pain. My work online, such as writing this blog and offering feedback on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping community, is a much more recent phenomenon. While I try to help people understand various emotional or behavioral problems through this work, I don’t do therapy with it. For me, therapy is a psychological treatment that also involves a very personal relationship between my patient and me; something I cannot do through a blog or online forum. However, I still believe that the help people receive on the Internet can be therapeutic. And others do offer therapy online.

When I say that help offered on the Internet can be therapeutic, I mean that people might feel relief from it. For instance, it is clear that many of those posting on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping community are distressed and looking for help. It is equally clear that responses from others frequently do help them feel better or provide them with suggestions for how to handle their situations in a better way. Blogs (such as this one) and websites (such as the Anxiety Disorder Association of America website) are also helpful to many people.

In addition, many kinds of therapy are offered on the Internet. While this is still a new medium for psychotherapy and needs to be evaluated for effectiveness, research has shown some promising results for certain kinds of therapy. For instance, Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been developed to help people with ongoing depression and to prevent relapses. This treatment teaches specific methods for dealing with symptoms and has been shown to be somewhat effective.

Online access to help for emotional issues offers many advantages. For instance, it does not rely on geographic accessibility or the mobility of the person in need. It also does not have waiting lists, is available at all hours, and often does not cost money. And while it might be difficult to physically bring together enough people for a support group for a specific problem, this is not generally a problem on the Internet.

Because online treatment and more general online help for emotional problems is new, it must be approached with caution. It is important to make sure that you are reading articles from credible websites and are careful about who you chat with and believe when you are in open forums. If you are signing up for therapy on the Internet, it is important to know the credentials of those offering it.

Just as with other areas in life, be a smart consumer when looking for help with emotional issues. Ask yourself: Can I be helped online with articles, support groups, or therapy? Or do I need more personal face-to-face guidance? In the end, you can help yourself best by knowing what you want and thinking about what kind of help you need.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

Photo: Digital Vision

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