Skip to content

Health & Balance

When Cybertherapy Goes Bad

Font Size
A
A
A

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Craig H. Kliger, MD

July 24, 2000 -- "I don't recommend that anyone with a diagnosis like mine use the Internet," says Chris Brandon. But that's exactly what she did.

A 31-year-old computer programming student, she was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder three years ago. "It scared the living life out of me," she says. Like many people with a new medical diagnosis, she turned to the Internet for information. What she found, she says, nearly drove her to suicide.

Recommended Related to Mind, Body, Spirit

How I Escaped My Rapist

  On my last day of vacation in Italy, a chatty café owner in Rome introduced me to a tall, charming Italian man. He was a local artist, I learned; his name was Marco. Just a day earlier, my friend Lynn and I had sat in a piazza in Florence talking about how hard it is to meet nice guys. It had been two years since my last relationship, and, admittedly, I'd grown a little standoffish with the opposite sex. Lynn and I agreed that I could open up a little more. So when I met Marco, I figured...

Read the How I Escaped My Rapist article > >

As more and more people seek psychotherapy online, experts worry that charlatans may take advantage of them. "The Internet is beyond government control, so people have to take more responsibility for what they consume online," says Storm King, MS, past president of the International Society for Mental Health Online, an organization of patients and professionals concerned with the use of the Internet for mental health. "Unfortunately, people with mental illness may not have the best judgment."

So far, incidents of such abuse are fairly rare, according to those tracking the phenomenon. Martha Ainsworth, who checks the credentials of cybertherapists at her web site (www.metanoia.org), says she knows of no lawsuits filed against online therapists. She has found only one in four years who claims to be credentialed but is not.

But Brandon's case shows just how badly Internet therapy can turn out.

She first ran into problems when friends started telling her about a self-styled "psychoanalyst," who frequented chat rooms for abuse survivors and "multiples." Some women talked about going to his house for Froot Loops and ice cream.

When a friend said she was going to visit him, Brandon decided to check his credentials. "I knew that real therapists did not invite you to their homes," she says. "I talked to him on the phone and he told me he was a therapist, licensed in (two states). I called the licensing boards of those states and they had never heard of him."

The man, who spoke with WebMD on the condition that his name not be used, denies ever making these claims. But he admits he described himself, on one archived bulletin board, as a psychoanalyst with seven year's experience. "There are no laws against calling yourself a psychoanalyst," he says.

Today on WebMD

woman in yoga class
6 health benefits of yoga.
beautiful girl lying down of grass
10 relaxation techniques to try.
 
mature woman with glass of water
Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
coffee beans in shape of mug
Get the facts.
 
jet plane landing at sunset
Slideshow
poinsettias
Quiz
 
Hungover man
Slideshow
Welcome mat and wellington boots
Slideshow
 
Woman worn out on couch
Article
Happy and sad faces
Quiz
 
Fingertip with string tied in a bow
Article
laughing family
Quiz