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When Cybertherapy Goes Bad

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Although Brandon knew he was not licensed, she says she was eager to listen to him because he told her that increasing her ability to function was more important than integrating her personalities -- something she wanted to hear. "He told me to give the various personalities time and let them do whatever they wanted. This was not good therapy. But he made it all sound so good."

Relying on the online "psychoanalyst," Brandon says she didn't get the professional help she really needed. Eventually, confused and depressed, she took an overdose of a tranquilizer. It wasn't enough to kill her, but the experience led her to check into a mental hospital where she finally began to get effective treatment.

Local police began an investigation of the self-proclaimed "psychoanalyst," but he left that state before it was completed. The entire incident infuriated the online community of people with multiple personality disorder; one person posted a web page dedicated to exposing the unlicensed analyst.

In his discussion with WebMD, this man offered glowing references from other people he had helped. He pointed out that he doesn't charge for his therapy. And he has continued to offer counseling on his own web site.

Incidents like these show that chat rooms are clearly not the place to go for therapy, says Storm King of the International Society for Mental Health Online. Seriously depressed or ill people like Brandon need intensive therapy, face to face. "It's okay to try online therapy and see if it fits for you," says King. "But don't assume it's going to always work real well."

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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