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Surfing for Sex Therapy

Can you find love advice online? Yes, if you could trust it.

The Marriage of Therapy and Technology

Online sex therapy falls under the umbrella of "telemedicine," which also includes videoconferencing and telephone therapy. Because telemedicine is in its infancy, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association are still grappling with guidelines. Even so, both organizations emphasize that therapists who are online must adhere to ethics standards already in place.

William Stone, MD, who is on the American Psychiatric Association's Committee on Telemedicine, says the new technology is a mixed blessing. Although it is starting to bring therapy to people in remote locations, it also has limitations and potential dangers. For instance, doctors can usually prescribe drugs only in states where they are licensed to practice medicine, making it difficult to treat patients signing on from other states. And the images transmitted during videoconferences don't always allow detection of subtle changes in body language or expression that are often helpful in making a diagnosis during face-to-face meetings.

How to Judge the Sites

A reputable sex therapy site should have a disclaimer saying that the content and interactions do not constitute therapy or medical treatment, says Mitch Tepper, PhD, MPH, who has been researching online sex therapy sites for more than five years and launched his own in 1996.

Tepper also suggests checking sites to see if the therapists are certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) or belong to other organizations such as the American Psychological Association or the American Psychiatric Association. Ask therapists where they were trained and how many years they have been in practice (or look on the site for background information on them), as well as how long they have been online.

By doing a bit of research on the therapist and the site, you will be more likely to find someone who is credible and competent.

Elaine Marshall is a freelance writer living in Reno, Nev. She also reports for Time magazine and teaches at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.

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