By M. Gary Neuman
The therapeutic alliance has always been about a firm connection between patient and counselor. There has always been one primary standard of 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 to meet in person. 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 (cite: http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=4659).” Lisa Kudrow was referring to the concept of her show where a therapist provides web therapy in three minute increments, agreeably an absurd limitation. But the idea of web therapy still causes many to laugh aloud.
Yet, patients with depression are more likely to stick with a type of talk therapy when it’s given over the phone, compared 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? Her are a few possibilities:
Time and Money. Therapy involves the travel time to the office as well as parking and waiting room time. It commonly adds more time than the actual session itself and can cause a less than enthusiastic feeling when you wake up the morning of your session. 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 to see 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 awaiting people as you try to blot or hide tears and begin to process your epiphanies? Skype therapy allows significantly reduced time to all parts around therapy and it better insures your privacy.
Finding the Most Suited Therapist. When you are looking to personally meet your therapist, you’re confined by your immediate area. 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 therapy before it even starts. Communicating on screen or 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 to be continued through 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. I’ve written many self-help books to reach those who I might never meet in my office but with video programming, I believe I can reach and connect with people in a way that I can’t through a book.
Personally, as a therapist, 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 New York Times bestselling author and licensed psychotherapist. His work has been featured on Oprah over 10 times, Today over 20 times, multiple appearances on Dateline, the View and NPR. He has also been featured in Time Magazine, Redbook, Parents, Wash. Post, and LA Times. Gary is the creator of The Sandcastles Program for Children of Divorce, and Neuman Method, a marriage self-help DVD series in the privacy of your home. Gary can be reached by email for private counseling or further questions at email@example.com