The Virtual Therapist Can See You Now

By: Anne Krueger

Julie Hanks, LCSW, one of Sharecare’s Top Online Influencers, recently participated on a panel at South By Southwest Festival about online therapy. Here she shares her interesting take on this evolving form of therapist-patient communication.

What is the difference between virtual and face-to-face therapy sessions?
While there’s nothing like sitting face-to-face with a client, video sessions, chat and email counseling can be helpful therapeutic tools, especially for clients who are located in rural areas or who are struggling with physical health or mental health challenges that make leaving home difficult.

Videoconferencing allows for verbal and facial cues, while chat or email are limited because they rely on text only to communicate. However, certain clients, for example, someone suffering from severe anxiety, may be able to express himself or herself more openly through text based communication than face-to-face.  

Have you found that patients have difficulty connecting with you or relating to you through technology as opposed to in person?
I view technology as an additional to supplement traditional therapy. While I did venture into the online therapy world in the early 2000s, I found that there wasn’t much of demand for it. The majority of my clinical work over the past 17 years has been face-to-face therapy, using online therapy via Skype, phone, or email as an additional tool. I am excited to launch an online counseling division of my clinic to provide services to clients beyond our geographic location.

I am passionate about using technology (websites, blogs and social media channels) to promote mental health awareness and to share family relationship advice beyond the therapy office to reach a worldwide audience. Writing helpful and engaging online content, answering Q & As and posting video interviews, and other sharable media helps potential clients get a feel for my therapy style and allows my online followers to relate with me as a trusted and supportive professional resource and source of support.

When thinking about taking therapy sessions online, what should patients be aware of or consider?
It is extremely crucial for patients to thoroughly research the therapist and make sure that the provider is licensed to practice mental health therapy, is clinically experienced in the area the patient is needing help, has received training in providing distance therapy and has experience providing face-to-face psychotherapy. 

Over the weekend I participated on panel about online therapy that included an individual who claims to have invented a “new” form of therapy, without clothes on. She is obviously not a licensed therapist and has no training or supervision in doing psychotherapy. It’s important for patients to remember that just because someone calls himself or herself a “therapist” doesn’t mean they are trained to treat mental illness, relationship distress or any other psychological issue.

Hanks has been nominated for a National Association of Social Workers 2012 Media award for her website JulieHanks.com. Anyone can vote. Please consider voting online during the month of March!

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File under: Expert Spotlight


Anne Krueger

A print editor turned digital junkie, Anne launched parenting.com during her tenure as Editor-in-Chief of Parenting magazine and blogged at health.com while Executive Editor at Health magazine. She launched themotherboard.com and has worked at hgtv.com and lifescript.com.

View my Sharecare profile