The therapeutic alliance has always been about a firm connection between patient and counselor. There has always been one primary standard – physically meeting in an office setting. There might be some phone calls in between sessions or to bridge some vacation gap. But therapy has always been about a feeling of connectivity and there is no better way to do this than face-to-face. Yet, modern technology has clearly called this once obvious belief into question. Sure, meeting in person was the best but perhaps something better has come along. Is it possible that video conferencing programs like Skype could offer the same or even better help than in person therapy?
It has drawn its critics, most notably, Lisa Kudrow who spoke on her show, Web Therapy. “I thought it was the dumbest idea in the world. It’s such a bad idea that it made me laugh.” In Kudrow’s show, a therapist provides web therapy in three-minute increments, agreeably an absurd limitation.
Yet, patients with depression are more likely to stick with talk therapy when it’s given over the phone, as opposed to traditional, face-to-face settings, according to a new Northwestern University study. Could there be advantages to NOT being in the same room with your therapist? Here are a few possibilities:
Time and Money. Therapy involves traveling to the office as well as parking and waiting room time. Very often that takes up more time than the session itself, and can cause a less than enthusiastic feeling. Therapy, if done right, can take significant energy and adding stress to the mix can detract from the experience. Many people can’t afford the cost of leaving work or home responsibilities to get to the therapist’s office but can take a one-hour lunch break to manage a web appointment. It’s also cheaper without parking and gas fees.
Privacy. You can’t beat the privacy of your home. Many are not happy seeing other people in the waiting room and even if you are, it’s not conducive to your attempt to create a place of zen as you await talking about your innermost emotions. And who wants to pass through waiting people as you try to blot or hide tears and begin to process your epiphanies? Skype therapy insures your privacy.
Finding the Most Suitable Therapist. When you are looking to personally meet your therapist, your immediate area confines you. The best therapist for you may not live in your immediate area. Skype therapy gives you the entire world directory to choose your therapist.
Comfort. Therapy can be intimidating for many people. The idea of going to “see a therapist” often stops them before it even starts. Communicating on screen or by phone gives the patient a certain comfort and diminishes the feeling that one is “sick.” Of course, the person who seeks help is truly showing a sign of strength and not illness but sadly, many do not get help because of this internal judgement. Skype therapy can help the patient feel less stressed. Of course, others are definitely better served meeting the therapist in person.
There was a time that I only offered phone therapy for a short therapeutic experience and I never would provide marital therapy by phone because I needed to see the faces of the couple and their non-verbal communication. But web programs like Skype changed all that and for over two years, I’ve successfully helped many individuals and couples even though I’ve never shaken their hands or sat in the same room. But it sure feels like I have. I can see their every facial tic and movement and they appreciate having the ability to get help from me no matter where they are physically living. Many have chosen to travel to me for a day or two of intense counseling which continues via Skype after they return home.
I’ve taken the next step and developed an 11 DVD set, Neuman Method’s Creating Your Best Marriage along with a 280-page workbook. I believed that through my research and experience I could reach the core of a couple’s struggle with this format, using the workbook to help them bring out their specific issues. It’s a strong alternative to those who can’t find a marriage therapist that has been able to help them, can’t afford ongoing therapy, or just aren’t ready to sign up for the in person therapeutic route. Personally, I prefer seeing people in my office but when it isn’t possible, I’ve learned that modern technology has given new methods to significantly help others. Whatever your comfort level, the world of therapy is clearly changing to better match the personal needs of those who want help.
About the Author: M. Gary Neuman is a psychotherapist, rabbi, and New York Times best-selling author. He is the creator of NeumanMethod.com video programs for marriages and parenting.
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