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Review of "Choosing an Online Therapist"

By Gary S. Stofle
White Hat Communications, 2001
Review by Margo McPhillips on Mar 12th 2002
Choosing an Online TherapistThis book, by Gary Stofle, Secretary/Treasurer of the International Society of Mental Health Online (ISMHO), is the first I've seen on this subject, offline. I was both surprised and not, when I saw it had an ebook ISBN number also. The more I read of the book, the more I wondered why it was published offline. I'm currently in face-to-face therapy but tried online therapy a couple of years ago. I expected the book to be about its title, to address how to weigh one online therapist or group against another and "choose" a good therapist for one's self, but it turns out to have little to do with that subject.

The first two chapters, "The What and Why of Online Therapy" and "Can You Benefit From Online Therapy?" were very detailed and often confusing for me, a veteran therapy-goer and therapy book reader. I was almost amused at the extent of the discussion about the professional concerns whether online therapy is a good idea and how online therapy differs from face-to-face therapy. However, I also had a hard time figuring out for whom this book was written and why; I couldn't quite imagine the scenario of a facile Internetter not knowing what "therapy" was and how it works and wanting to learn online by reading an offline book or, of an Internet Newbie wanting to know what online therapy was about and not knowing how to go about it, instead of investigating face-to-face therapy first.

Almost everything in this book parallels books written about face-to-face therapy. A good therapist is a good therapist no matter where they practice and there are a lot of not-so-good therapists and charlatans, both in the face-to-face world and online; be careful to choose a caring, compassionate, empathetic, licensed, knowledgeable and trustworthy one. There, I just covered Chapter 3, "Characteristics of a Good Online Therapist". Almost everything in this book has been written in numerous places, online, better. I have a link on several of my personal Web sites to the Metanoia materials of Mary Ainsworth (who was one of the first people I emailed on the Web, back in the early- to mid-90's) and I often go to her site to read when my therapist is out of town, just for enjoyment and comfort. The book was not particularly enjoyable or educational to read.

I've been a therapy client contributing to online mental health communities for 6-8 years and yet I haven't heard of any stories where online clients/patients got in serious trouble because of online therapists. I do know of many, many "therapy" sites (including the ISMHO-related site, Mentalhealthline.com) that worry about surfers who might be suicidal. I was surprised and offended by the Mentalhealthline pop-up box making me agree to their "rules," concerned I might be suicidal, before I could even look at their site. I looked at many therapists' sites before choosing an online therapist a couple of years ago and again, can't imagine the scenario where a therapist, or charlatan could do me harm. If one doesn't like people one meets online (my therapist was in California and I'm in Maryland) one ceases contact with them. If you don't pay your therapy bill online, the therapist doesn't show up for sessions, whether or not you're suicidal.

I think most of the issues with online therapy are therapist issues and it makes me nervous and impatient watching therapy sites and therapists dither it out, learning rather slowly and cautiously how to use the Internet for their advantage. All sorts of folks are jumping in, embracing the Internet, taking what they perceive as risks to themselves, emailing and chatting away, but the face-to-face psychotherapy world with our "mentors" and role models in it, do not seem to be. I vote for more sites and therapists like Richard Sansbury!

The thrust of this book seemed to be how to access online therapy if you live in a small town with few therapists or don't want your neighbors to see your car parked in the therapist's parking lot week after week and you don't know anything about therapy, computers or the Internet. I didn't see anything in the book that asked users of therapy, either online or face-to-face, what they thought or any discussion of how many online therapy-goers there had been these recent years and their circumstances. Again, the book's existance doesn't make sense to me! I suspect it was written to make someone, not a therapy client/patient or potential client, feel better about online therapy or their work in that field. I can't imagine who, after leafing through this book, would buy it to read.

© 2002 Margo McPhillips

Margo McPhillips is a 1972 graduate of the University of Maryland with a Bachelors degree in Sociology. She is currently interested in the use of books on the Web, bibliotherapy, genealogy as an online family/generational activity, and and is enrolled in the UserActive program to earn a Certificate of Professional Development in Web Programming from the University of Illinois to help her with her seven Web sites. Visit her new UserActive site under development at http://mcphillips.ecorp.net/.