The therapist’s couch has long been a staple of books and movies, a place where unpleasant truths are revealed and neuroses untangled. But, almost unnoticed, the delivery of psychological support is being transformed – by the internet.
If you need NHS help for common problems such as anxiety or mild depression, you won’t necessarily meet your therapist face-to-face. You could be at home or even by the pool, typing your emotional secrets into a dedicated instant messaging service. You might be following a computer program that takes you step by step through a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) programme, or having a digital face-to-face on Skype.
“The benefits of online therapy are considerable,” says Joanna Bawa, a CBT practitioner with the NHS in Hereford. “Going into the cloud abolishes geography. You can be at home in Brighton and your therapist can be in Bradford.” Timing can be much more flexible, too, she adds. “No more having to miss work, or pay a babysitter, or spend half an hour travelling each way.”
The anonymity is particularly attractive to men, who, says Bawa, “are more likely to go for therapy if they can confess to feelings of weakness and inadequacy without being recognised”.
But does internet therapy – or “Skypotherapy”, as it has been termed – work? Surely there is something special about the intimacy of the consulting room? “That’s what many of the more traditional therapists thought,” says Nadine Field, a qualified therapist who set up PsychologyOnline.co.uk several years ago. The company, which now has more than 100 accredited CBT therapists on its books, many of whom work for the NHS, uses an instant messaging system which can be accessed 24 hours a day.
This article first appeared on The Telegraph on 19 January, 2014.