RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
All right, so let's talk about solving psychological problems in this next story. Traditionally, of course, talking to a therapist has required going to an office and talking face-to-face. But as NPR's Maanvi Singh reports that the Internet is changing that. More people - especially younger people - are going online for their mental health services.
MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: Lauren Kay has never met her therapist in person. She is a 24-year-old entrepreneur who lives in New York.
LAUREN KAY: It can be really hard to have to take off from work and commute, especially, like, in New York - two hours round-trip to see a therapist.
SINGH: She finds that it's much more convenient to see her therapist online.
KAY: It's been the best relationship that I've had with a therapist.
SINGH: She found the counselor on a website called prettypaddedroom.com. She chose her out of a list of licensed therapists and social workers. When it's time for her appointment, she logs in, clicks on a link and begins her video session.
KAY: You know, it felt like Skyping with a friend. And when I was at my parents' house the other day, you know, I got to show my therapist my cat. So it, you know, it just makes it more personal where you can sort of bring your therapist into your home and really talk about what's going on.
SINGH: She's not alone in that thinking. More and more people - especially millennials - people born in the 1980s and 1990s - are trying this out.
KAY: What's happened is that we've gotten really used to using on-demand services to make our lives easier, you know, everything from booking a taxi to food to booking a date.
SINGH: The founder of the online therapy service Pretty Padded Room is Bea Arthur. She says there's a real demand for web therapy right now.
STEVE ARTHUR: For the most part, our target market is women in their 20s and 30s.
SINGH: She says it works really well for young people on-the-go.
ARTHUR: You know, job issues, breakups, adult friendships breaking up - just there's so many transitions that occur during this time, and we've really gone out of our way to kind of curate an experience that speaks to them.
SINGH: A 30-minute session is $45 or less if you sign up for a monthly plan. There are nine therapists to choose from based from all over the country. And patients from all over the world can use this service.
ARTHUR: We have clients in Belgium, Saudi Arabia and Korea. I mean, it's been amazing.
SINGH: Pretty Padded Room isn't unique. A bunch of other companies have the same idea. There's a website called Breakthrough, another called Virtual Therapy Connect. The list goes on and on. Studies suggest that therapy online can be just as effective as in person. Lynn Bufka is with the American Psychological Association.
LYNN BUFKA: I think we have a lot of promising data suggesting that technology can be a very good means of providing treatment. I don't think we have all the answers yet.
SINGH: There are cases where therapy online may not work. Online therapists usually don't treat people with severe issues, especially those who may be contemplating suicide. Privacy is another concern. To protect confidentiality, some of these companies use special teleconferencing software with extra security. And then there's the issue of licensing. Therapists are licensed to practice by individual state boards. Bufka wants to see a special certification for therapists who live in one state and want to treat people who live elsewhere.
BUFKA: We'd like to see a little more mobility and flexibility with that because the - certainly for licensed psychologists, the standards are pretty similar across state lines.
SINGH: Sorting these issues out is crucial because as the world continues to move online, people are increasingly looking for mental health care on the Internet.
JOHN KIM: This is going to be the new way.
SINGH: That's John Kim. He's the founder of The Angry Therapist, another online service. As communication technology gets better, Kim thinks online therapy will continue to grow.
KIM: Before, you know, when the Internet was on dial-up and stuff, it was really hard to do something like this. But now, I mean, you could literally see a teardrop. You could - you know, Skyping with someone is just as effective sometimes, if not more, than in person. When you open up your laptop or on your desktop, you just see your therapist and you - it's a lot more casual. It takes away the stigma of therapy.
SINGH: Kim sees clients both online and in person, and he says some of his clients actually feel more comfortable chatting on Skype than they do talking face-to-face. Maanvi Singh, NPR News.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.