The Tech-ing Cure - Kimberly Thompson

     The talking cure has been around for well over a hundred years. Its effectiveness is real and profound, although the exact reason why it works remains elusive. Those who have been cured of their emotional and psychological distress through talk therapy say that it has to do with being heard without being judged, and with being able to unburden themselves to someone outside their circle of friends and family. As a psychologist, I find that the magic of psychotherapy is in the client hearing themselves say out loud what they have been telling themselves inside their minds. Thoughts take on a different quality when they are said out loud in the therapeutic space. While I have many tools to help my clients change their lives, the most potent one is simply to create a protected space for clients to speak their truth.

     Since the dawn of the new millennia, therapists have been experimenting with the use of technology to deliver the talking cure. Studies have been published on therapy by phone, text, email, and videoconference. There have also been studies of the effectiveness of delivering therapeutic principles without an actual therapist – essentially internet programs designed to educate and motivate. The lines between education, self-help, and psychotherapy are being blurred.

     I still believe in the talking cure, and while education and self-help certainly improve lives, they are not a substitute for that protected space where people can speak their truth to someone who is not going to judge them. In that space, people become open to change, and when that door opens I begin to educate and to ask people to help themselves. I ask them to do things like exercise, read, use special apps, and have hard conversations with their families. The safety of psychotherapy is the ground from which change springs.

     One of my friends, a fellow psychologist, described what we do this way: “I sit with people in their pain.” I have never heard a more profound description of psychotherapy. The question becomes, does technology have anything to offer therapists or their clients that does not undercut the protected psychotherapeutic space?

     I’m not a fan of therapy by text or email, due to the total flattening out of the communication – there is no opportunity to read tone of voice, facial expression, or body language. I inform my clients in my communications policy that I do not use texts or emails for clinical concerns. Therapy by phone call is a step up from that, and I can see how it has its uses in certain limited situations. I believe that psychotherapy by videoconference, also known as online therapy, is the best choice for technology-assisted therapy, because it holds the potential for creating “protected cyberspace.”

     Online therapy is ideal for pregnant women and new mothers, particularly those that live in rural areas or who have not been able to find a nearby therapist that specializes in their concerns. Here are some reasons why I am enthusiastic about it:

     • You get a greater choice of therapists.

     While licensing laws restrict practicing across state lines, you can theoretically work with any therapist within your state. I live in Lubbock, and I can work with any mom from Amarillo to Harlingen, from El Paso to Houston, using an online platform. If you have trouble finding someone locally that gets you, you probably can find someone appropriate online.

     • You get a higher level of convenience.

     You can see your therapist even if you have been put on bed rest, or if you haven’t yet been cleared to drive after a c-section. I encourage moms to bring their babies to therapy until they become mobile (creeping, crawling, or pulling up on the furniture). Therefore, in those first postpartum months you don’t have to get a babysitter or wrestle the carrier into the car.

     • You save time.

     Especially once you go back to work, online therapy allows you to carve out only enough time for therapy itself. No allowing for travel time needed.

     • It’s private.

     Some women are wary of being seen going in and out of a therapist’s office. While I encourage women to view therapy as normal as going to a physician or a dentist, that’s sometimes hard. Knowing that they can do therapy from a room in their house, or from their private office at work, can really help.

     I suggest that mothers seeking an online therapist ask the following questions:

     “Are you a generalist or are you a specialist?” It’s better to find someone who has advanced training and experience with new mothers.

     “Do you use a HIPPA-compliant platform for online therapy?” HIPPA is federal law that governs how therapists handle sensitive client information. As of this writing, Skype is not a HIPPA-compliant platform.

     “How long should I expect therapy to last?” I ask my clients, both face-to-face and online, to commit to 8 to 12 sessions. We evaluate progress at session #6, and at that time get a sense of how much longer it might take. Therapy is a definite financial commitment, so it is very reasonable to want to get an estimate before investing in it. Just remember that it is only an estimate, and you might want to add more sessions if you still have unmet goals at session 12.

     There may be more practical restrictions to online therapy than you would experience face-to-face. An example would be if your therapist requires a copy of your government-issued ID as part of the enrollment process, or if she requires a credit card for payment. She may also disqualify you from online therapy if you are suicidal or are experiencing hallucinations or delusions. Inadequate internet service or an old computer may also get in the way of online therapy.

     In my own practice, I put a lot of importance on atmosphere. I make sure that the lights are soft, the music is soothing, and the scents are relaxing. I call the waiting room the “decompression chamber” and encourage my clients to leave their troubles behind for an hour. It’s difficult to recreate this online. However, if it’s difficult to find the right therapist or to get to a therapy office, then online may be just the ticket!


     I am Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Lubbock, Texas. I work with mothers and their children to help them heal, grow, and live their most vibrant lives. My particular expertise is pregnant and postpartum women, and moms of “littles.” My book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, is available on Amazon and from Praeclarus Press. If you live within driving distance of Lubbock, you can work with me face-to-face; if you live anywhere else in the state of Texas, you can work with me via online therapySend me a message if you need more information, or call my office at (806) 224-0200 if you’re ready to book an appointment.