Virtual Therapy

CYBERSHRINKS

The convenience of the Internet allows us to shop at 3 A.M. and read breaking news before it hits the papers. Now, it lets you receive counseling from the comfort of your very own couch.

Russell Razzaque, M.D., a British psychiatrist and one of a growing number of therapists offering analysis on-line, launched what's billed as "the Internet's first and only source for one-to-one psychiatric therapy" in December. His Web site, CyberAnalysis (www.cyberanalysis.com), offers patients individualized traditional psychotherapy. Razzaque's relationship with each patient takes place in the medium of the client's choice--chat room, phone or videoconference. He also sends clients e-mails explaining analytic techniques for them to try away from the computer.

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E-mail therapy may seem impersonal, but Razzaque feels that the approach puts results in his clients' hands. "This medium enables me to teach them to analyze themselves," he says. "I can go directly into their homes and help them."

But not everyone is gung-ho about on-line therapy. John Grohol, Psy.D., director of Mental Health Net (www.john gr@cmhcsys.com), a Web site offering information about Internet therapy issues, wonders how analysts can diagnose mental disorders without crucial factors like face-to-face contact. "Without non-verbal cues, it's harder to read clients," says Grohol. "I think on-line approaches work better for mild problems or advice."

Clinical social workers Tim Hagge, M.S.W, and Susan Captein, M.S.W., agree. They offer an e-mail service for students at Oregon's Portland State University to help them cope with "relationships and leaving home," says Hagge. But Therapymail, as it's called, offers more advice than bona fide analysis, Hagge admits. "E-mail isn't a rich enough interaction," he says. "Deep-seated problems don't come to the surface well enough." More useful, says Grohol, are the 200 to 300 electronic newsgroups, bulletin boards and mailing lists that provide informal ways to share ideas and support about psychological issues.

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