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Health & Balance

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Therapy From a Distance

WebMD Feature

July 24, 2000 -- It's a good two-hour drive from Sarah's home in the back country of Tennessee to the nearest city. But that's how far she'd have to drive to find a therapist she could confide in.

As someone who tested people for psychological disabilities, Sarah, 54, was one of two mental health professionals she trusted in her community. The other was her boss.

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So when she became depressed, she joined a growing number of people who are turning to the Internet for professional counseling. Though many experts warn that Internet counseling isn't as reliable as face-to-face therapy, for people who are too busy, homebound, or -- like Sarah -- live in remote areas, Internet therapy is one of the few alternatives available. (See Is Online Help Safe?)

"It was a lifesaver," she says. "I couldn't very well tell my supervisor I was suicidal." She remains convinced she would have suffered professionally if anyone she worked with knew of her illness. Recently divorced, she also felt isolated from friends and family, who seemed to dismiss her feelings.

But with her cybertherapist, she says, "I felt at ease. I could talk about my resentment -- my feeling that I was really wronged by my ex-husband -- and she heard me. That was very important to me."

The online sessions had some other advantages as well. In person, Sarah says, she tends to look cheerful no matter how sad she's feeling. "I could be more honest with email. I could take as long as I needed to consider my answers to her questions, and I could talk to her at any time. I didn't have to limit my needs to Thursdays at two."

Sarah wrote her counselor twice a week for six months. It cost her about $30 a session. "I might have been able to complete therapy quicker if I could have seen the counselor in person," she says. "But in my situation, it was the best solution, and it worked."

Today, Sarah feels good about herself. "I still touch base with my therapist every few weeks," she says. "It's nice to know she's there if I need her."

Barbara Burgower Hordern is a freelance writer based in Missouri City, Texas, a Houston suburb. Her work appears in publications ranging from Money to Biography to Ladies Home Journal.

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