The Written Word as Healer

Some object to the idea of therapy or life coaching by email, Internet, Skype or telephone.

The basis for the objections is almost always something like this: patients improve most in a strong relationship with a therapist experienced at reading faces and other nonverbal communication.

I say: Nonsense.

Before getting psychological help, which do you think is the more important of these two questions:

How can I find a therapist who’s articulate, smart, experienced and has ideas that can help me?


How can I find a therapist who is experienced at reading faces and other nonverbal communication?

The answer is probably obvious, to everyone except the traditional, mostly Freudian-based therapists who feel that the whole purpose of psychotherapy is to develop a long-term relationship with your therapist who can read your body language.

People seeking help, even people with emotional problems, usually understand the issues at stake better than a lot of professional psychologists. They understand that what they need are ideas, suggestions, perspective and solutions. They don’t need a relationship with a therapist, beyond a spirit of working cooperation. They need a professional, not a mommy or daddy or a spouse or a best friend. If relationships were the solution, they would just go out and make friends. Many people looking for psychological help already have friends. Many are happily married. It’s ideas that are crucial.

People—all people—are in need of good ideas. It’s quite possible to form an intelligent relationship with somebody in an online context. Just because the medium of communication is comparatively new does not automatically make it bad. I understand it threatens the well-being and livelihood of therapists uncomfortable with, or financially threatened by the existence of serious competition. But these factors have nothing whatsoever to do with what objectively does or does not work.

The written word is and, throughout history, has been a powerful means of communication. If you’re put off by the ‘new and different’ aspect of email or online therapy, consider the fact that the written word predates Sigmund Freud by many centuries.

Some people feel shame and embarrassment about opening up to a professional about their problems. The shame and embarrassment is usually exaggerated and sometimes entirely irrational, but it doesn’t matter. The very presence of shame and embarrassment means the individual will be less than forthright about his problems.

Many who feel shame and embarrassment will not even seek professional help at all. Opponents of email therapy—again, to the best of my knowledge, a group entirely limited to psychologists who don’t approve of it—talk only about the supposed risks of online therapy as opposed to in-person therapy. What they ignore are the people who are successfully getting help when their shame and embarrassment would otherwise inhibit (if not prevent) them from doing so.

If you hear of clients or customers dissatisfied with online therapy, then listen to what they have to say. Their criticisms might, or might not, be relevant to you if you’re considering online therapy. But pay little attention to the objections of psychotherapists who are displeased with or threatened by the lack of non-verbal cues such as body language or eye contact.

You can obtain help in many different ways. It makes no more sense to rule out the written word as a means of gaining help as it would to rule out verbal communication. Therapists who claim that therapy without physical interaction is worthless ought to prove they mean what they say by throwing out every book they ever read, including any that have most influenced them. If the written word is useless in therapy, it’s useless in books and literature as well.


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