to Online Psychology
assessment of human abilities dates back nearly 4000 years when China used
written tests to rate applicants for civil service. Utilizing our
knowledge of human behavior to improve lives is probably even older.
Most people feel that therapy began with the teachings and
discoveries of Sigmund Freud.
a few short years ago, assessment and therapy were performed in an office
setting utilizing face to face interventions and assessment techniques.
Innovative ways to apply the theories in psychology are constantly being
explored, but the new digital era has brought a vastly different
experience to this endeavor. Today their are several ways to get
mental health services without ever leaving your home.
of Interactive Online Psychology
there are two types of services offered online, each with varying degrees
of interaction: Assessment and Therapy. Online assessment includes
self scored tests and quizzes which typically cover a specific area of
psychology, such as depression or anxiety. More general online
assessment may include mental health screening tests and personality
inventories. These are usually longer and more comprehensive.
therapy ranges from newsgroups where either mental health consumers or
consumers and therapists interact. This is a good format for simple
advice and support, but falls short when more specific feedback or
information is needed. The next tier would be e-mail therapy, where
a client actually fills out a form or sends an e-mail with a question.
The e-mail is then answered by a mental health professional which allows
for more specific information and often a more in-depth analysis of the
question. The final tier is what is usually thought of as online
therapy, e-therapy, or cyber therapy. It consists of a client and therapist interacting in a chat
room in real time. This allows for greater interaction and more
specific feedback than the other types.
All of these, however, have
both their strengths and their shortcomings. The
remainder of this article will primarily address online
psychotherapy and will give you a basic understanding of
strengths, ethical concerns, how to find an online
therapist, and how to help assure a positive experience.
can have therapy or assessment right from your home during a
time that is convenient for you. There's no commute, no
therapy is often less expensive than traditional therapy.
there is a negative side to privacy, there are no concerns about
being seen walking into a therapist's office, or bumping into a
friend as you leave. You can also interact with your
therapist without having to take time off of work or make up
excuses as to where you are going.
of the strongest arguments against online psychology is that it
significantly reduces interpersonal quality. Much of
assessment and treatment involves studying posturing, body
movement, and voice tone. All of which are impossible in
the virtual therapy office.
of Physical Closeness
times, much of the healing that takes place in therapy comes
from the knowledge that someone is listening to and focusing on
you exclusively. You gain empathy from warm facial
expressions, and gather hope knowing that someone is physically
there for you.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Privacy is both a pro and a
con. As many of us are aware, there are plenty of ways to
gain access to personal computers, to intercept email, and to
hack into a site that is reportedly secure. Many opponents
of online therapy argue that this in itself raises a multitude
of unresolved concerns.
benefits from Online Psychology?
is Online therapy and assessment right for you? This is a very
personal question. Most agree that traditional therapy is still
better. They also agree, however, that something is better than
nothing, and if online therapy will motivate you to seek needed help, then
it is a positive innovation in the practice of psychology. Respond
to the following items with either true or false to see if online therapy
is right for you:
||My schedule is so
hectic that keeping the same appointment on a weekly basis would
||I would just like to
get some professional advice every now and then and am not
seeking any weekly commitment.
||The thought of
calling a therapist, making an appointment, and/or going to his
or her office terrifies me.
have thought about therapy on several occasions but have not
made the effort to seek help even though I know it would be to
you answered true to any item and believe you would benefit from therapy,
seeking help from a licensed online therapist may be the best choice for
concerns have long been a focus of mental health
professionals due to the intimate relationship that exists
between a client and his or her provider. Online
therapy is a new arena and with it comes a lot of debate
about ethical concerns such as the performance of therapy
across state lines, what to do in case of an emergency, and
how to protect confidentiality of client records.
Several Organizations are addressing these concerns and some
states have already looked into laws regarding online
psychology or online psychotherapy. Below are some
links that will help you gain more information about the
provision of online psychology:
Statement on Services by Telephone, Teleconferencing and
American Psychological Association (APA)
for the Use of Electronic Communications over the Internet
to provide On-Line Counseling Services
Counseling Association (ACA)
Suggested Principles for the Online Provision of Mental
International Society for Mental Health Online (ISMHO)
is the million dollar question. There have been no
published studies that address the efficacy of online
therapy so much of what we know about how well it works
comes from providers and clients. In both of these
groups you will find those who believe it is very effective
and those who believe it can even be harmful. Most
agree, however, that if performed ethically and with a full
disclosure of the strengths and weaknesses involved, online
therapy can be an effective alternative to traditional
psychotherapy. As with any treatment for mental health
concerns, however, there are never any guarantees.
To Find an Online Therapist
traditional way to find a therapist is to ask others:
friends, family members, physician, minister, priest, rabbi,
etc. If this isn't successful or you don't feel
comfortable doing this, then I would suggest joining a
newsgroup devoted to your concerns such as alt.depression
(there are many and they are all free). You can ask
the group but be prepared to get anywhere from no
information at all to more information that you ever wanted.
is also strongly suggested that you do your homework.
This page represents a summary of online psychology in
general and online therapy, but there are many web sites out
there with good and accurate information. Check out
some of those below:
of Internet Therapy
on the Internet and Prevention (HIP)
do your own internet search (or traditional library search)
to make sure all your questions are answered.
Should I know Before I Start Online Therapy?
is a list of questions (in no particular order) that you
should have answered before you begin a relationship with an
is your licensure status (Psychologist, Mental Health
Therapist, Clinical Social Worker, etc)? In what
state is it issued? (If
the therapist is not licensed, stop and seek another
is your degree (Ph.D., Psy.D., M.S.) and what was your
major course of study (psychology, social work,
specialties do you have training for (hypnosis, EMDR,
etc) and what additional training did you complete to
gain these credentials?
long have you been doing online therapy?
you guarantee success? (If
they answer yes to this question, stop and seek another
is my confidentiality assured?
will we interact (chat rooms, email, group chats), how
often and for how long, and what fee will you charge?
(If there is no definitive answer,
stop and seek another therapist)
any other question or concern you have. Remember,
you are paying a therapist which means he or she works
for you. You have the right to feel safe,
confident, and trusting of this person and if you don't
feel all three, or haven't gotten your questions
answered, stop and seek another therapist.