Online Counseling Popular, Fraught With ‘Ethical Questions’
An increasing number of therapists offer mental health help online, but the ecounseling industry's recent growth has raised a number of "ethical" questions, Newsweek reports. About 250 to 300 counseling Web sites currently exist, with therapists offering services such as online "chats" and counseling via email. The prices for these services range from $1 per minute to $150 or more for a month of email. Individuals seeking therapy like the anonymity and convenience that Internet counseling services provide, and therapists -- "sick to death of managed care" -- like the "financial incentive," Newsweek reports. However, many ethical "what-ifs" cloud the practice of online counseling. For example, patients may have "difficult[y]" determining the qualifications of online counselors and whether they consider patients' "best interests" during counseling sessions. Concerns over Internet therapists' legitimacy prompted one former ecounseling patient to launch www.metanoia.org, a consumer site dedicated to tracking therapists' credentials. And some counseling Web sites, such as www.4therapy.com, only offer referrals for face-to-face sessions. "Responsible" online counselors have also emphasized the importance of face-to-face visits, arguing that Internet counseling can "in no way compar[e]" to actual sessions with a therapist. Still, despite the skepticism surrounding Internet counseling, more online therapists will likely "emerge," seeking "new ways to market their trade" (Kalb, Newsweek, 1/22).