There are distinct advantages to the online alternative
KEITH BEATY/TORstar News Service
Late at night when his children were asleep, the 45-year-old software developer would brew a pot of Earl Grey tea and head to the computer in his rural Prairie home. He’d pour out his troubles in an e-mail — to his psychotherapist in Toronto.
She’d respond within 48 hours, he’d write back, and so went his therapy over the course of a year.
“I wasn’t constrained by an appointment time,” says the software developer, who asked not to be named. “I also find it easier to be more open in an email. My inhibitions and insecurities tend to be stronger in person.”
More counsellors — and employee assistance programs — are offering the online alternative, mainly through e-mail but also via instant messaging on secured websites.
E-therapy practitioners point to the convenience with sessions anytime, anywhere, and the privacy. They say clients tend to organize their thoughts better when writing, get to the heart of the matter quicker, and have the therapist’s responses to reread. It costs about the same than in-person sessions.
“Online counselling isn’t just a second cousin, something you do because you can’t get an appointment,” says Cedric Speyer, clinical supervisor of e-counselling at Shepell FGI. “In many ways it’s better.”
Not so fast, say others. Ian Nicholson, chair of professional affairs for the Canadian Psychological Association, worries about licensing issues, lack of computer privacy, and missed nuances without in-person contact.
“The mainstream view is cautious,” says Nicholson. “We don’t really have a lot of evidence about its effectiveness.”
A 2004 review in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found few differences in the outcomes of online or in-person therapies.
Gerry Smith, a vice-president at the employee assistance program Shepell FGI, says his firm’s client satisfaction rate for online therapy is the same as in-person therapy, about 95 per cent.
“Clients experience the same level of resolution of their problems,” says Lawrence Murphy, an online counsellor since 1995, “and they tend to complete their therapy in fewer sessions.”
While in-person counselling attracts four women for every man, says Murphy, the ratio is closer to two to one for online work. “Men may feel more in control of the information, more comfortable in their own place,” says Murphy, co-founder of therapyonline.ca. The Prairie software developer, who wanted counselling for relationship issues, chose the online route mainly to save time.
“With face-to-face therapy you might think, ‘I wish I’d asked ...’ right after you walk out,” he says. “With e-mail, you can make sure you said what you needed to say.”
The big bonus was having the responses to reread. “Life isn’t a straight line,” he says. “You go up and down. Sometimes I’d find myself needing reassurance about something. It’s handy to go back to the e-mails.”
|What to look for in e-therapy|