A Wealth of Resources
by Mark Sichel, LCSW
There was a time in history, not too long ago, when people had exceedingly limited access to mental health information and support. Prior to the advent of the Internet, people who were struggling and suffering with emotional problems had only two main choices: get a self-help book and solve the problem themselves or invest a great deal of time and money to see a psychotherapist.
Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, while I was still in college, I needed help myself. It took me years to find the help I needed. I tried many self-help books, and while providing some useful information, they nevertheless left me unable to truly get a handle on my problems. I then turned to therapy. My initial experiences were equally unsatisfying.
The first therapist I saw insisted that I needed intensive psychotherapy twice a week. He would have me lie down on a couch and talk about my problems. When he fell asleep in a session, he implied that it was my fault for not being interesting. Given that my self-esteem was already in the gutter, I believed him, though I was disturbed enough by the experience to try a different therapist.
The next therapist I went to called himself a rational emotive therapist. He gave me tasks to do to overcome my fears, and when I couldn't complete those tasks, precisely because the fear overwhelmed me, I felt even more awful about myself. Again, with zero self-confidence I believed this treatment failure was also my fault. After a few more therapies with people who didn't seem able to help me at all, I was on the verge of feeling despondent and like a "hopeless case."
I finally lucked out and found a therapist who was smart, emotionally available, talkative, and helped me to resolve many of my problems. My self-esteem and my functioning radically improved. It was a hard fought battle to find the help I needed and wanted.
Twenty years later, we have a very different picture in our culture. The Internet is full of resources, information, and support groups of all kinds. The digital revolution has provided answers to the chronic problems of cost and lack of anonymity in the treatment of mental health. Even though the state of mental health care still needs vast improvement, the landscape has altered radically in favor of the consumer.
Internet users have many tools at their disposal for improving mental health. They can verify the credentials of therapists, get immediate feedback from experts, hear the stories of others struggling with similar issues, find reports on the effectiveness of various treatments and medications, and receive, if needed, around-the-clock support from peer groups online. All from the security of their own home.
Governmental agencies are often the best place to begin to gather information about a particular diagnosis and problem: there is a wealth of material on the National Institute for Mental Health's fine informational site. Professional organizations are also available with literature, self-help material, and licensing verification services. The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association for Social Workers can all provide information and access to resources.
Mental health specific websites such as psybersquare.com, mentalhelp.net, and internetmentalhealth.com all offer tools for support, access to expert information, answers to questions by licensed professionals, and feedback from others suffering similar problems. Mental health awareness has come a long way in America, and the digital revolution is just beginning!
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