What's Available On-Line for Mental Health Professionals?

September 1, 1996

With the exploding growth of the Internet, more and more people are going on-line. Mental health professionals are finding discussion groups filled with like-minded researchers and practitioners in every aspect of the field. Laypeople are discovering the value and enrichment that mutual self-help support groups and educational materials lend to their treatment. It is important, if not invaluable, to become familiar with this new world of opportunity and to learn about what's currently available and what's coming in future years.

With the exploding growth of the Internet, more and more people are going on-line. Mental health professionals are finding discussion groups filled with like-minded researchers and practitioners in every aspect of the field. Laypeople are discovering the value and enrichment that mutual self-help support groups and educational materials lend to their treatment. It is important, if not invaluable, to become familiar with this new world of opportunity and to learn about what's currently available and what's coming in future years.

Professionals getting on-line today will benefit from increased communication with their colleagues around the world, ease of professional collaboration, access to a wide range of useful information previously found only in libraries or in books and the opportunity to participate in continuing education courses.

The Internet is composed of a number of distinct parts. Acquiring an understanding of these parts may be helpful to those who are ready to explore the opportunities on-line. The World Wide Web is the fastest growing part of the "Net," largely because it allows people to quickly and easily display information and images that are then accessible by anyone in the world. A web site is an individual's or corporation's place on the web. A site is typically made up of dozens to sometimes hundreds of separate "pages." If you think of the web as one global library and each site as an individual book, you will have a basic understanding of the web's organization.

Mailing lists, or "listservs," however, are the preferred way of carrying on a discussion with hundreds or thousands of people throughout the world, since lists are available via electronic mail (e-mail). Newsgroups are more public general discussion areas that allow for threaded discussions. (Threading makes a discussion easier to follow, because discussions are chronologically organized by subject.) Mailing lists and newsgroups are topic-oriented, i.e., organized according to specific subject areas. Because newsgroups are more public, they attract many people who aren't interested in staying "on topic" in the discussion. Consequently, several professionals find that newsgroups attract too many irrelevant discussions to be worth their time. Mailing lists are more popular among professionals.

Search Engines/Guides

There are two traditional ways to explore the web: search engines and guides. Similar to a library's card catalog, a search engine provides a complete index of everything it has found. Unfortunately, search engines aren't very "smart" right now and will return much more information than most people want. More intelligent and controlled search engines will be available shortly, which may improve their usefulness. Alta Vista, Lycos and OpenText Index are examples of some popular search engines.

Guides, on the other hand, do not rely on software to do their cataloging; it's all done by hand by a human or a group of human editors. Because of this editing, guides tend to offer more useful and organized information. Yahoo is one of the most popular guides for general information; Infoseek is another widely recognized general-purpose guide. Mental Health Net is one of the largest such guides for mental health, psychiatric and psychological information. The drawback to these guides is that they tend not to be as large or as comprehensive as search engines. Guides are a great place to start your search for information. Then, if you haven't found the specific information you are looking for, it's worth going to one of the more general search engines.

Professional Resources

On-line are hundreds of professional resources. The following are among the best resources available today.

Mailing lists provide a simple way to go on-line via e-mail. A good general-interest mailing list is PsycomNet's Psychopharmacology forum, hosted by Ivan Goldberg, M.D., a psychiatrist with extensive Internet experience. Goldberg also hosts psychotherapy practice and research lists. A psychiatry list, which used to be more active, is also available. Clinical Psychologists, hosted by Joe Plaud, Ph.D., is oriented toward psychologists, while PsyUSA, owned by John Roraback, Ph.D., is for general psychological discussion. For a full listing of professional lists currently available, please see Psych Central's listing of mailing lists on-line and subscription instructions.

Looking for information? Check out Mental Health Net. No matter what your area of interest, you're likely to find a good starting point through this huge guide of refereed resources. Mental Health Net features an internal search engine to make finding information quick and easy.

The American Psychiatric Association's web site features membership information; managed care help; the APA catalog; consumer-oriented brochures and information on mental disorders; public policy information; employment listings; research and clinical resources; and dozens of other topics.

Mental Health InfoSource, on-line since November 1995, is a product of CME LLC., publishers of Psychiatric Times. A popular stop at this site is MHinteractive, where consumers and mental health practitioners can ask questions of a well-known researcher/clinician who answers selected queries on a weekly basis. The site features exclusive columns by psychiatrists Peter Kramer, Sue Chance and Keith Ablow. Click on What's New for mental health news directed to professional and consumer audiences. Continuing medical education and practice opportunities greet the on-line visitor. Look for chat rooms to open later this month.

The American Psychological Association's site also provides useful information, such as job listings from the APA Monitor, as well as selected articles and news. Tables of contents for that association's most recent journal issues are also found here, although unfortunately few full-length articles are available as of this writing. This site also offers 40 additional mailing lists hosted by the American Psychological Association.

Behavior OnLine is the meeting place for professionals. It offers interactive discussions on its web page and conversations with some of the leaders in the field today. Behavior OnLine is a unique, well-designed site that will keep you reading for hours and coming back time and time again.

Dr. Bob's Home Page is a great list of mental health and medical links, and includes an archive of psychopharmacology discussions and tips for psychiatrists.

Cognitive & General Psychology Research-Oriented Resources is a lengthy and comprehensive listing of cognitive research and academic resources on the Internet.

Internet Mental Health is a great place for psychiatric treatment information, research and diagnostic guidelines. It is one of the most popular mental health sites on-line today.

National Institutes of Mental Health's (NIMH) site isn't the prettiest or easiest to navigate (this may change as they upgrade), but it is a good place to start to look for grants, research information and educational material on disorders.

Psychiatry On-Line is a mildly interesting refereed journal. It is difficult, however, for most Americans to access because it resides in the United Kingdom and the trans-Atlantic link is often slow.

PsychScapes WorldWide Inc. is a reference source with conference and therapist directory listings.

The Self-Help and Psychology Magazine is one of the strongest consumer-oriented magazines on-line today. It has a large staff that puts together an attractive and informative issue on a regular basis.

The Self-Help Sourcebook OnLine is useful in helping to track down a support group or organization concerned with almost any medical or mental health condition. The book, published by the American Self-Help Clearinghouse contains all the information found in its softcover edition.

On-line newsgroups may also be of interest. Sci.cognitive is a great place for discussions on cognitive psychology. Sci.psychology. psychotherapy is a discussion forum in which psychotherapists can talk about psychotherapy methods and techniques. Sci.med.psychobiology is for the discussion of medication and psychobiological interactions. Sci.psychology. research is a moderated forum for research issues in psychology. Psycoloquy (sci. psychology. journals. psycoloquy) and Psyche (sci.psychology.journals.psyche) are two refereed electronic journals.

What's Ahead

The on-line world is still in its infancy. Even more exciting developments will be seen during the next few months. Faster modems will allow for full audio and video to be displayed over the Net. Live audio is already available and is a portent to the future possibilities of on-line uses. Continuing education programs are currently being offered, allowing busy professionals to schedule their continuing education time at their pace and leisure. Despite a number of ethical concerns, a growing number of clinicians have begun experimenting with on-line therapy. Professionals will be able to use the Net as another tool to help provide a higher level of quality care to clients as well as to increase their ability to communicate with colleagues across the world.

Related Computer and Psychiatry Articles