Allying with the Internet The best clinical resources on the web by Elizabeth Doherty Thomas
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. …