New Media Rules: Time for virtual therapy?
Israel-based psychologist attempts to revolutionize treatment programs for recovering drug addicts.
Arthur Trotzky Photo: Courtesy: Arthur Trotzky
In a digital world where the issue of privacy is under constant scrutiny and the
debate is ongoing over whether virtual interaction removes us from reality,
Dr. Arthur S. Trotzky knows he has his work cut out for
Recently certified in Distance Counseling, the Israel-based,
US-trained psychologist has been working fervently to gain recognition for a new
treatment program for recovering drug addicts that is operated
While he has the technological side all figured out – he uses
some of the topnotch conferencing software preferred by huge corporations –
Trotzky realizes that the success of this venture lies in convincing those in
need of therapy to trust a totally new type of system.
“The problem is
that some people are just not used doing things this way,” says the doctor, who
holds a BA in psychology from New York University, an MA in counseling and
psychology from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and a PhD in
counseling and psychology from Oregon State University.
Trotzky, who has
also undertaken postdoctoral work in addiction treatment, says that resistance
is especially acute among the older generation – but that younger people, who
already spend many hours online, seem willing to adapt. Despite reservations by
some, he is now focusing on convincing the rest of the medical world to accept
his brand of virtual therapy.
“Americans are very reluctant to do this,”
observes the veteran immigrant, who served as a mental health officer in the IDF
Acknowledging that well-known virtual conferencing platforms
such as Skype are not 100 percent secure, Trotzky maintains, however, that a new
batch of highly encrypted, password-protected software has already started to
address this, and, in the process, will change the way group therapy programs
are run worldwide.
Utilizing one of those digital platforms, he has
already started to help provide programs for recovering addicts, running virtual
group sessions both in Israel and the US.
While the groups he runs in the
US are via a private practice, those he has established in Israel are supported
by the Israel Anti-Drug Authority and are entirely free of charge for now. Most
patients are referred to the program by social welfare services and others get
to him by word of mouth.
EVEN THOUGH he has little doubt about the
benefits of virtual group therapy for recovering addicts, Trotzky does
acknowledge that there are some technical drawbacks and that some people going
through rehabilitation might need physical contact.
“In real life when I
conduct a therapy session, I do give out a lot of hugs, but when we do it online
and I see people are frustrated, then we might take our anger out on a pillow or
something,” he says, highlighting that not everyone is suited to such a remote
type of therapy.
The program works something like a video chat, with each
participant logging on via a secure server that allows them to see other
participants on their computer screen. Trotzky says that the system also
includes a variety of gimmicks, such as decorating the screen for a birthday and
sending written messages of support.
Other benefits include being able to
meet up online even when physical factors, such as bad weather, might become
obstacles or when patients are spread out geographically.
“At the moment
I have two Israeli groups that meet weekly and they come from all over the
country,” says Trotzky, describing how his patients are from Beersheba, Haifa,
Bat Yam and beyond.
Even though the participants are spread out and are
not sitting in the same room, Trotzky maintains: “there is still a lot of love
going though the Internet.”
“For me, the experience is even more intimate
and personal,” comments Rafi, a Haifa-based former heroin addict, who prefers
not to give his full name.
Rafi says that meeting virtually has had an
array of benefits for him, including being able to stay in the comfort of his
own home and smoke a cigarette – which is not allowed in public meeting places –
and drink his home-brewed coffee.
He also points out that by utilizing
the Internet in this way, such a program could become vital in treating teens
with addictions. “Everyone says that Israel has a problem with teenagers
abusing alcohol and drugs; this kind of program could really bring about a real
change for young people, who are online all the time,” says Rafi.
just so excited about this program and just fascinated with its prospects,” adds
Trotzky, emphasizing that while recruiting former addicts is sometimes tricky,
he is fully convinced of the benefits of virtual therapy.
“It’s the way
of the future,” he concludes.