An Interview

by an Australian Journalist

  Fiona is preparing an article on e-counselling for a major weekly magazine. She asked me to allow her to contact my clients. Here is the email interview with one of them, 'Anna'. Anna lives in another country (I won't tell you which one), and English is not her native language. She is a professional person involved with real estate.

* Can you explain a little more about your 'personality disorder"? How does it present ?

   Professionals in the field of psychology use a manual named DSM V, which contains extensive sets of criteria to help them diagnose their clients. According to this manual, some say I qualify as 'Borderline Personality Disorder'. Bob doesn't think so, BTW. BPD's are quite common. They come in many varieties, from well adapted to highly anti-social, but they are supposed to share the following:
- fear of being abandoned
- unstable and/or intense relationships
- low self esteem
- suicidal tendencies
- mood swings
- chronic feelings of emptiness
- anger related problems (fear of anger, lack of control)

   A lot of them engage in 'substance abuse' and risky, potentially self damaging behaviours.

   I have some of these symptoms in a mild form, under control. My worst problems have been feeling worthless; separation anxiety; fear of abandonment.

* How long had you been having these problems, before you sought help?

  I had a childhood with a lot of neglect and abuse. My parents both were alcoholics. l used to take care of my mom since I was small. I was a sad teenager, deliberately causing accidents. At 18, I took pills. My marriage had a violent start. My husband had problems of his own and I was severely beaten. After a couple of years. we sought help. We went to see a therapist who first focussed on safety; ending the violence.

   Apart from seeing me with a black eye now and then no one 'outside' knew of my problems. Feeling I was bad, worthless convinced me I had to be perfect to be loved and accepted. So I worked hard, was nice and accommodating, always ready to help anyone that might need it. This coping mechanism helped me to make a very successful career.

* Did you look for e-counselling before traditional counselling in your country, or was it the other way around?

  Like I said, I started many years ago doing therapy for the first time -- somewhere in the 80's. That first time I did therapy for two years. Then I stopped. Some ten years later, I started seeing my therapist again, this time for a shorter period. I went back to him a third time after my parents died, two years ago. In a short time, I became very dependent of his support. Being dependent is tough for someone with separation anxiety: the closeness never comes without the fear of losing. Then I decided it might be wise not to put all my eggs in one basket. I searched the net and found an online therapist in the USA. I have been working with him for over a year now, on a regular basis, exchanging an average of two letters a week.

* Why did you decide to try e-therapy?

  I guess I partly answered that one. But there were other reasons. My 'handicaps' trained me to be extremely accommodating; I became very sensitive to the needs of other people, and by watching them closely I taught myself to fulfil even unspoken wishes. In therapy, that's a drawback, You're not supposed to do it to make the therapist happy. :) There are far less signals to respond to in e-mail therapy, so it's easier to stick to your own needs. Besides, there are some issues that are easier written than said. I had huge body image problems, and couldn't bring myself to talk about physical stuff face to face. Writing made it a lot easier.

   I continued seeing my face to face therapist and, once I had discussed them in writing, I also managed to talk about these things with him. I truly believe the combination of these two methods strengthened them both.

* Are you still involved in conventional therapy in your country?

  Yes, I am.

* Was it difficult to find an e-therapist?

  No, I didn't have any difficulties. But I guess I was lucky - first with my American counsellor, than with Bob.

* What are the advantages of e-therapy over traditional therapy?

  Apart from the ones I already mentioned it's the freedom to spend time on it whenever it's convenient. I have a demanding job, often working late. I can write email at night and in the weekends. Another benefit is (to me, at least) it does require a very active attitude; a lot of its success depends on your willingness to work hard and thorough. I like that. It fits my character. :)

* Are there disadvantages to conducting sessions via computer?

  Since both participants lack the clues you get in real life (tone of voice, attitude, facial expression) one has to be very able to express his/her feelings in writing. In periods of acute distress one can feel quite alone. There is no crisis intervention, so there'd better be no crises. :)

* Are you still working with your US therapist as well as Bob?

  Yes. Actually, I just recently started with Bob. My US therapist is changing his fee structure in a rather significant way, so I might not be able to afford his services much longer. Bob is a writer, too, and I like writing. I feel he may be the perfect guide to accompany me on the next stretch of my life's path.

* What results have been achieved through e-therapy?

  I have thoroughly analysed my belief system and found out a lot of my beliefs were (perhaps) once a right choice, but now they are anachronisms, counterproductive. Beliefs are deeply rooted and they are influencing all aspects of our life. Without counselling we seldom explore and challenge them, however. I did, and it improved my self-esteem, my body image and it made me realize what made me the workaholic I have been so far. I plan to work less and spent more time on the things I like, like writing and painting.

* Is the help (from the e-therapy sessions) of a different kind to that received via traditional therapy?

  It's a highly intensive way of doing therapy. Face to face therapy is limited to one hour a week at the most (excluding psychoanalysis). I used to spend 10 to 15 hours a week on our e-mail work.

* Who is the US therapist that you were consulting?

  I cannot tell you his name without his consent, but I'll ask him.

* What made you chose an Australian therapist?

  The beauty of the Internet is geography doesn't matter. You can select a therapist whose site appeals to you. I immediately felt attracted to the site of my US therapist, who is quite funny, and a gifted writer, too. Actually, I discovered Bob's site when I was doing a survey on e-therapy fee structure all over the world. But I couldn't resist Bob's site, and when I had checked it out I knew I would like to go on with him, when I had to say goodbye to my US counsellor. My US experience helped me to improve my English, hence I prefer an English speaking therapist. And I like the Australians. I have been there once, for a short time, and I felt very attracted to what I might call a great blend of 'new world' directness and old-world culture and charm. The best of two worlds. :)

* Is there anything I haven't asked you about e-therapy, which you feel is important and would like to mention?

  No, not at the moment. If this letter might stir a new question, please feel free to ask.

  Hope that the above questions aren't too intrusive and time consuming. I appreciate your help and look forward to reading your replies.

  My pleasure. But please don't forget to protect my identity a bit, OK? I would like to read the article, once it's finished. Do you think you could e-mail it?

   Anyhow, I hope the article will be all you expect and want it to be. Good luck!

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