Quietly, with almost no headlines, Skype has revolutionized the practice of psychiatry and psychology.
Doctors all over America are now meeting with their patients via Skype, instead of in person. And this may be just the beginning.
Skype has folded down the walls of psychiatrists’ offices. It is allowing patients who previously would not have had access to talented mental health professionals in states far away from them, or to those literally in other countries, or to those 100 miles away, to choose from many of them.
It has dissolved some of the resistance to getting help from people who were loathe to drive an hour to see their therapists, then spend another hour talking, then drive an hour back to work or home. Now, they can turn on their laptops, sit in their offices or living rooms and get to the bottom of what is limiting them.
Skype allows people to vastly increase their ability to choose a well-regarded psychiatrist or psychologist, rather than one an easy drive away. This alone could create competition (based on excellence) in fields like mine that sorely need it.
I have a client in Italy, another in Kuwait, and another in Paris. I have counseled people in China, Russia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Great Britain. My friend, a talented psychologist about 20 years older than I am, has patients around the United States.
While I might have questioned the effectiveness of a Skype session compared to an in-person one, it turns out very little, if anything, seems to be lost. Sitting together has immediacy and warmth to recommend it, and going to see a healer can be a journey with spiritual power, but Skype has a few intriguing advantages of its own. When people speak to one another on Skype, they tend not to look away. Their faces are literally just a few feet from one another (on-screen).
This creates a surprisingly intense connection while addressing emotionally-charged topics, and when the commitment to address them is significant. And Skype can be available during the exact times when a person is suffering anxiety or feeling most depressed or struggling with an emotional issue or experiencing a moment of epiphany. If the doctor is available, then the session can begin. In seconds.
As my readers now know, most forms of technology don’t impress me. I think most are toxic. Facebook, particularly. But Skype, used for psychiatrists, psychologists and their patients, seems not to be. I even wonder whether using Skype to burrow to the core of the genuine, heartfelt matters troubling people is a bit of an antidote to the normally sterilizing and deadening effects that computers can have on people.
Skype for psychotherapy (and medication management, by the way) turned the Internet inside out—humanizing and intensifying it. Research studies comparing Skype sessions to in-person sessions would, of course, be welcome.
But here’s my initial diagnosis: Barring the good fortune to have an extremely talented psychiatrist or psychologist within a reasonable drive of me, if I needed a psychiatrist, I would pick the best one I could find, anywhere in the country (perhaps, anywhere in the world), and try using Skype to get help from that person.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.