Officials to review ‘deceptive’ therapy hotline

Instant cures over the phone can’t solve real problems, says Health Ministry.

August 4, 2011 06:54
3 minute read.
Office (illustrative)

Office 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Health Ministry said it will examine with its legal department and take action regarding a new private company of 30 clinical, educational and other psychologists and psychotherapists, who over the phone, counsel strangers at a charge of NIS 6 per minute via credit card.

The ministry made the statement after receiving a query by The Jerusalem Post about the company, which calls itself Mahabaya (sic) (What’s the Problem?).

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The firm’s publicity material said it was like going to a psychologist, but by telephone.

“This is deception,” ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron commented. “It is not ‘like’ and not ‘almost,’” she said.

There was a “clear difference between counselling given by professionals who underwent serious training and received a license and a hotline that responds to problems – such as Magen David Adom – which are not meant to replace organized clinic or hospitalization treatment that functions under control and supervision,” she said.

If Mahabaya is a hotline, it must man the lines with people who underwent specific training, such as ERAN (Emotional First AID), Shimron said.

According to Mahabaya’s publicity material, the ministry said it did not find an organized process of diagnosis.

Shimron said no significant connection between a patient and therapist can be made over the phone.

“Anonymity is not a basis for real therapy. It can be used only when giving one-time help in a crisis,” said the ministry spokeswoman. “Instant therapy cannot be an answer to real distress and problems.”

Shimron said the NIS 6 a minute was a relatively expensive charge when the fee of clinical psychologists who work for a health fund is “significantly lower.” Supervision and control to ensure a high professional standard, such as that given by state, public and even the serious private frameworks, is vital, she concluded on behalf of the ministry.

Sima Ella, CEO and founder of Mahabaya, which is also called the Center for Psychological Counseling by Telephone, stated that psychological therapy by phone and Internet has become widespread and accepted in the US and other countries. She said the new service was not meant to replace conventional therapy frameworks but supplement them.

The company CEO said the therapists chosen to work at Mahabaya were chosen carefully.

Most have master’s degrees or higher from known and prestigious universities, and completed their degrees with honors. They also all work in private clinics or in Health Ministry clinics.

The ministry’s response, said Ella, “is a smearing of a first-level professional team with know-how, education, experience and understanding of the human spirit,” and that the company is the “only place” in which the therapists educational background and certificates are open to all in a transparent way.”

Ella said the private service gives immediate access to people in distress, and that after initial contacts via the phone, the individual can go to the clinic for additional help. It also lets them get a taste of the therapy by phone before committing oneself to the spending of thousands of shekels on long-term therapy, said the CEO.

Prof. Danny Brom, a clinical psychologist and head of the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma at Jerusalem’s Herzog Hospital, said this type of treatment is becoming the norm.

“Distant treatment is a growing issue, mostly through the Internet, and there are some studies showing that it can work well.

Laws will have to adapt to accompany this growing trend, and the ministry will have to deal with the phenomenon,” he said.

“There is not a lot of knowledge about what problems can be treated with it and what problems cannot. But on the condition that it will be done in a professional way, there is certainly something to say for the use of it.

One worrisome aspect of distant treatment is the ‘relationship’ issue,” said Brom.

“In clinical practice we see lots of people with social fears and interpersonal problems.

I find it hard to believe that distant treatment will be effective for this, and it might attract just those people who try to avoid their interpersonal fears.”

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