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98.09.10
Celebrity Trades.

With the market in turmoil, the only safe bets may be at the box office.

98.09.02
There's Something About Harry.

How a twenty-six-year-old college dropout became the king of "film geeks" -- and the bane of big Hollywood studios.

98.08.20
The Second Coming.

Jesus and Elvis meet Dolly.

98.08.12
New Definition.

A preview of the Oxford English Dictionary's electronic edition points the way to a new kind of reference work.

98.08.05
The Lolita Effect.

What Vladimir Nabokov and Bill Clinton have in common.

98.07.30
Normandy: 1944

As Saving Private Ryan sweeps the country, learn about the reality behind the celluloid images.

98.07.22
Investigating the Renaissance

An interactive exhibit shows how digital imaging can reveal a painting's secrets.

98.07.15
Miles Ahead

An elegant multimedia tribute to the music (and commercial appeal) of Miles Davis.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
Psychotherapy on the Net
September 16, 1998

Mental Health on the Net The results of the recent and much-publicized study on the social and psychological effects of Internet use, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, must have been something of a disappointment to many of the study's sponsors, among them Apple Computer, AT&T, C|NET, Intel, Hewlett Packard, and Netscape. One of the report's major findings, after all, was that "using the Internet adversely affects ... psychological well-being." (And this was published before the Internet suddenly became, this past week, a global distribution system for the Starr report.) If spending time on the Internet leads, as the Carnegie Mellon researchers argue, to an increase in depression and loneliness, and if virtual interactions simply aren't as healthy as real ones, this raises a rather vexing question: What to make of the growing number of Web sites devoted to online psychotherapy?

What, indeed, should this stuff be called? As is pointed out on the informative and thoughtfully assembled Metanoia site ("a comprehensive, independent consumer guide to the psychotherapists and counselors who provide services over the Internet; compiled by consumers, for consumers"), this is a touchy subject. "Whatever this is," writes Martha Ainsworth, the site's host,

it is not psychotherapy in the traditional sense.... Terms like "cybertherapy", "online therapy", "e-therapy" ... push a hot button for many therapists, who go ballistic arguing that "therapy" (as we have always known it) cannot happen over the Internet.... Some terms being tried out include "consultation", "individualized information", and "advice" -- even the mouthful "behavioral telehealth" -- but ... I have settled for "interaction" and "Internet mental health services" as appropriately vague terms, until the therapists involved decide on other terminology.
This new industry may not yet have a name, but as clearinghouse sites like Mental Health Net, Internet Mental Health, and NetPsychology amply demonstrate, it is blossoming. The Internet is famously chaotic, however, and Web therapists may not always be what they seem. Hence the valuable Credential Check component of Mental Health Net, a dedicated attempt to steer those seeking counseling on the Internet away from the sharks who will inevitably roam the waters in search of victims in distress.

Disorders and Treatments While the Internet is giving rise to this new industry (not to mention a new academic discipline, some contours of which can be glimpsed in, for example, the Journal of Online Behavior,) the Carnegie Mellon report suggests that it is also giving rise to a new constellation of social maladies -- afflictions no less real for their virtual origins. It's probably worth pausing briefly to grapple with the paradoxes posed by a technology that can help to cause and to cure psychological troubles. If such grapplings turn out to be deeply disturbing, is there any solace in the thought that help may be just a few clicks away?

--Toby Lester


Discuss this Web Citation in the Technology & Digital Culture conference of Post & Riposte.

Toby Lester is the executive editor of Atlantic Unbound.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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