While it may not occur to many therapists, their best clinical ally can be the Internet—particularly for a client who needs more educational and interactive help than you can provide in one weekly, 50-minute session. For instance, how can you help an isolated client who has no personal support system besides the therapeutic relationship, and feels weird about even being in therapy, bridge the void between weekly sessions? Finding friendly, dependable, interactive sites—message boards, blogs, Twitter, and live chat rooms—where he or she can meet people struggling with similar issues can be enormously comforting, informative, and even healing, especially when you help the client monitor and assess the Internet experience.
Psychoeducation is always some part of the therapeutic experience, but even if you’ve explained the nature of depression or anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder to your client, many more questions, doubts, and uncertainties about what it all means will still remain. With your guidance, the Internet can serve as a trustworthy source of information about therapy or the client’s particular difficulties.
Of course, more and more clients are already submerging themselves in websites—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and not only diagnosing themselves, but prescribing their own treatment. In those cases, you must be ready to make sure they’re using dependable sources and fully comprehend the implications of the information they’ve gathered. As clients talk about what they’ve seen and experienced online, you may gain invaluable insights about how much they understand about the issues that brought them into therapy and how they perceive their lives and the therapeutic process.
Finally, no matter how much training or experience you may have, it’s easy to feel isolated and in need of the support and connection that cyberspace can provide. It goes without saying that you can always benefit from hearing about innovative new approaches, clinically relevant research developments, and questions other practitioners are raising about how to handle difficult client dilemmas.
Directing clients to websites with the highest-quality information is becoming a routine part of case management. There are many sites that offer useful, readable research that demystifies diagnostic language and allows them to get a better grasp of what’s troubling them. However, many websites that look impressive and educational ultimately are just trying to sell something—a medication, a class, a book—so it’s important to keep in mind the match or conflict between your client’s needs and websites’ biases. For instance, some sites are distinctly for or against drugs, as indicated by whether or not they display ads for psychopharmacology products, or certain therapeutic procedures, such as electroconvulsive therapy, while others are slanted in favor of self-help, group therapy, or individual talk therapy. Some are severely critical of psychotherapy itself. All it takes is one angry, high-energy, deeply opinionated techie to create a website seething with bias and misinformation.
These informational sites top my list:
- PsychCentral.com is the largest website providing mental health information to the general public. Cited by Time magazine as one of the “50 Best Sites on the Web” in 2008, it contains an exhaustive array of articles on mental health, expert blogs, self-assessment quizzes, research information, bulletins on therapeutically relevant news, and interactive live chats and forums. Clients can find everything they need to know about any DSM diagnosis, including descriptions, possible causes, clinical approaches, and self-help suggestions, as well as an assortment of blogs written by individuals experiencing similar conditions. You can link to a series of fascinating podcasts—”Jung in the Louisiana Gulf,” “Exploring the Criminal Personality,” “The Meditating Brain”—or brief videos of online sessions, such as Psychotherapy with the Unmotivated Patient and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
- MentalHelp.net, which has been around since 1995, offers similar features for lay people and professionals alike, but feels better organized and easier to navigate than PsychCentral. The main page features newsy items that invite exploration—”Psychological Impact of Protracted Unemployment,” “Children, Television, Video Games and Attention Problems,” “Overweight? Your Brain May Not Know When to Stop”—as well as offbeat research studies—”Gentle Horses Help Rein in Autism in Kids,” “Anxiety Disorders, Heart Disease—a Bad Combination.” There’s a “Topics” section with everything you need to know about addictions, anxiety, eating disorders, and so forth, and an “Ask Dr. Schwartz” feature, where readers ask questions about their problems, which are answered publicly. Many are about couples issues, and a fair number of those are about sexual problems. Another distinctive feature is a free therapist directory, which can be a source of prospective clients.
- PsychologyToday.com is a large, engaging website that explores cultural topics relevant to psychotherapy and mental health issues. Looking like a combination of O the Oprah Magazine and People magazine spritzed with eau de Scientific American, this site definitely loves celebrity culture. One window on its home page currently features Lindsay Lohan, and another compares Lindsay Lohan’s behavior with Mel Gibson’s. Under “Psych Basics”—a giant smorgasbord of articles on more than 200 sociopsychological topics—you find headings such as “Punishment,” “Altruism,” and “Testosterone.” While there’s a fair amount of what looks like psycho-slush, there’s plenty of solid material presented in an exceptionally reader-friendly format and style. You’ll even find sexy-sounding titles that actually cover worthwhile, research-based subjects—”Geeky Guys Make Great Husbands,” for instance. So while the site isn’t exactly a source of peer-reviewed research articles, it contains good information and is fun to read.
Of Message Boards and Blogs
These sites should be recommended cautiously. Many of the individuals whom clients are likely to meet online may be angry, reactive, dogmatic, and needy, demanding excessive support from online peers. However, these encounters may assist with therapy, if clinicians track their clients’ online experiences. Here are a few resources that provide an unabridged, uncensored look at the popular zeitgeist.
- HealMyPTSD.com is full of good information and support for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sufferers. It was created by Michele Rosenthal, who experienced a horrifying medical error and 25 years of untreated PTSD. With the assistance of a fluid cast of volunteers from the PTSD community, she’s created a sophisticated clearinghouse of PTSD-related information. Through her site, she sponsors awareness campaigns, educates people about treatment options and self-healing methods, offers free live teleseminars, and personally responds to anyone seeking her support.
- journey2balance.wordpress.com, a blog written by a man whose wife suffers from bipolar disorder, is engaging, intelligent, real, and includes a long list of other recommended blogs and resources. The graphics alone are worth checking out.
- Alifelessanxious.com is a blog, personal website, and resource guide created by Steve Pavilanis, a former panic and social anxiety sufferer. Here he shares personal stories of his own struggle and ultimate victory over crippling anxiety, references to research studies, and topical discussions of issues often drawn from news sources. His friendly, intelligent perspective is a big draw to this site.
Resources for Therapists
I recommend visiting the websites of all the professional associations—APA.org, AAMFT.org, Counseling.org, Naswdc.org —even if you’re not a member. There are a lot of free, nonmember areas, listservs, blogs and other useful features. In addition, below are just a few other sites specifically intended to help therapists keep up with the field’s latest developments, offering clinical resources you can put to good use in your practice.
- Centerforclinicalexcellence.com, managed by the International Center for Clinical Excellence, hosts a worldwide community of licensed practitioners, healthcare managers, educators, and researchers, who share best practices and innovative ideas. Through its forums, discussions, video instruction, research summaries, and practice-management tools provided by other members of the community, users get peer support with their most challenging cases and clinical dilemmas.
- AllPsych.com is the site to visit if you want to become an expert on all things psychological without leaving your desk. It includes a timeline of psychology from 387 BC to the present, biographies of famous psychologists, and online psychology textbooks. You can check out fully explained psychiatric disorders, scan the index of professional journal articles, and explore career options and graduate education programs.
- Psychotherapynetworker.org, the website hosted by the very magazine you’re holding, is an all-round “open sesame” to everything a therapist ever needs to know about psychotherapy. If there’s one-stop shopping in psychworld, this is it. Its goal is to serve as the field’s town hall and central teaching/learning community, bringing coherence to the overwhelming amount of information about research, training, practice, and social issues an informed, 21st-century clinician needs to know. Designed to provide a comprehensive road map to the field, it offers access to more than a thousand articles from the award-winning Psychotherapy Networker, as well as more than 200 CE courses—live case consultations, webinars, audio and reading courses, magazine quizzes—on every conceivable clinical topic. Through blogs, forums, and live interviews with leading thinkers and practitioners, it gives practitioners the opportunity to engage in a lively, ongoing conversation with the field’s best minds and regularly tap into the profession’s collective wisdom.
There’s an entire (virtual) world of psychology-related information, wisdom, research, and entertainment, with just enough weirdness to make a good seasoning, available on the Internet. Encourage your clients to seek out appropriate sites, check into a few yourself, and make these limitless resources an integral part of your own learning and practice.
Elizabeth Doherty Thomas
Elizabeth Doherty Thomas runs two national therapy directories. She trains non-technical therapists in managing their websites and online presence through tele-classes, audio CDs, a blog, and personal consulting.