Yes, Online Therapy Can Work as Well as In-Person Therapy

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By Gavin Sharpe

As the coronavirus increases its grip on many of us and several cities and towns across the globe collapse into lockdown like a pack of dominos, many of us are waking up to a world of social distancing, quarantines, and self-isolation.

We have at least one major advantage in comparison with those who lived through previous pandemics. Technology. Despite our isolation, we have the means to stay connected. We can use technology to improve our wellbeing. We can sit at home and heal ourselves. We can sit at home and heal the world.

Put simply, we don’t need to be isolated in our isolation.

This morning I did something I have never done before. I counseled a couple in crisis. The counseling bit is not new. It’s my bread and butter. Working with a couple in crisis is also familiar. What was new is that I delivered my services to a couple while they sat in their car and I sat in my living room. We did something that even a quarantine can’t stop. We connected. We connected deeply.

I have moved my therapy practice exclusively to offering my services online during this coronavirus crisis. That includes couples work, sex therapy, and addiction. You name it and I am doing it in cyberspace.

The reaction from clients and some therapist colleagues has been varied. The underlying assumption is that online therapy can’t be as good as real-time therapy. There is resistance to combining technology with our wellbeing. We seem comfortable ordering the fruit and vegetables online or some sneaky Viagra but not therapy.

For some therapists, I think it’s as if we are betraying our founding father. It’s not how Freud did it. (Actually, Freud wrote letters to some of his patients). Perhaps it’s the equivalent of non-alcoholic beer to some. It’s not the real thing. How can we disseminate all our limitless empathy for our clients if they are not in the room with us?

For clients, I think the reasons might be different. I sense there is a fear it won’t work. I believe clients come to therapy to find a safe and confidential space in which to be validated (amongst other things). We want someone to get us. That is often because as children no-one was there to get us or perhaps our caregivers were present but they failed. So we come to therapy to be experienced. We don’t want to be missed again, so why risk it in cyberspace?

For me, providing assistance through technology is not new. Many of my clients have jobs that require them to travel (well they did until recently). When possible, we meet in my office and have our therapy session there. I enjoy the meeting face to face. It’s not that it’s better. It’s different. I have also had some of my most moving sessions online.

Turning to these coronavirus laden times, I recognize that there are practicalities of having therapy online while in quarantine at home. Little Johnny might be sat in the next room and might not want to hear about Daddy’s erectile dysfunction. But we are resourceful. Clients are speaking with me from their cars, in their gardens, or while walking the dog. I admit that in the past I would not have proposed such a session. I would have felt it didn’t do the serious work justice. I am also learning the art of compromise.

At a time in our evolution when we most need to connect, I hope we don’t turn our backs on getting support because it doesn’t look real. I run a weekly online men’s support group for sex addicts. There have been several weeks when one or all of us have cried. The means through which we came together has never been a barrier. Maybe it even disarms us.

There has rarely been a time in my life when I have felt so connected. Sure there are other emotions too as we endure this pandemic. Anxiety. Fear. Overwhelmed. Anger. Yet there is gratitude and joy from the sense of coming together which we only tend to witness during times of crises. In the last few hours, I have seen online communities spring up and have witnessed people creatively find new ways to embrace technology in order to reach out to others. I cannot wait to attend my first online dinner party. What will I wear?!

I moved into my new office in Monaco three weeks ago. I spent hours picking the right cushions and creating the right lighting. However, today I learned a lesson. I didn’t need bricks and mortar to connect. I met my client couple in the virtual world and we cried together as they shared the memory of losing their child many years ago. (They have agreed for me to write about this, adhering to anonymity).

In a government-induced lockdown, we three human beings came together and shared something that connected us inextricably. Our humanity. That’s when I realized fully that we don’t need to be isolated in our isolation.

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This article was originally published at this link. It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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Gavin Sharpe hosts our Thursday (10 a.m. Pacific) Sex, Love, and Addiction drop-in discussion group for men. He is an accredited psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (MBACP). He is also a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist (CSAT) candidate. Gavin works with individuals and couples (heterosexual and same-sex) affected by issues relating to sex and intimacy disorders, as well as those experiencing broader mental health problems. As an integratively trained psychotherapist, Gavin works according to the needs of each client, drawing on a range of therapeutic techniques. He believes that within all of us lies the resources to live the life that we were born capable of living. Gavin also works on intensive programs and groups structured to support sex, porn, and love addiction treatment. Gavin is based in Monaco and works with the English-speaking communities on the French Riviera as well as with other ex-pat communities in Southern Europe. Previously, Gavin enjoyed a corporate career in the City of London working as a lawyer and then founded his own international recruitment business.