New Media Rules: Time for virtual therapy?

Israel-based psychologist attempts to revolutionize treatment programs for recovering drug addicts.

By
August 30, 2012 12:57
4 minute read.
Arthur Trotzky

Arthur Trotzky 521. (photo credit: Courtesy: Arthur Trotzky)

 
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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 him.

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 virtually.

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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 reserves.

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.

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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.

“I am 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.

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