- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2001

"Im good enough, Im smart enough, and doggone it, people like me," says Stuart Smalley in his daily affirmation. Cynics familiar with the "Saturday Night Live" skit about a therapist trying to follow his own advice might find this process more laughable than realistic.

But sometimes motivational words combined with a regime of self-empowerment can be just what the doctor ordered for dealing with life´s uncertainties concerning everything from relationships to one´s self-image.

With millions of people battling any number of crippling psychological problems every year, licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist Mark Sichel saw the need to help those who could not afford expensive therapy. Two years ago, he established a cyber-place to offer plain talk on how to help tackle some chronic mental health challenges.


Site address: www.psybersquare.com


Psybersquare was founded in New York City by Mr. Sichel, a practicing therapist since 1980. He joined forces in 1999 with Chief Executive Officer Daniel Strauss, and in 2000 with Vice President of Development Alicia L. Cervini to create the mental wellness Web site.

Creator quotable:

"We created Psybersquare to be an alternative or a complement to traditional therapy by providing people with short-term, practical advice and tools for living," Mr. Sichel says.

Word from the Webwise:

According to a 1999 surgeon generals report, 20 percent of Americans suffer some form of mental illness.

Psybersquare offers a sympathetic ear and voice through "advice, guidance, compassion, innovation and inventiveness" in giving people a mentally healthier lifestyle.

Although the site may sound like a late-night infomercial, Mr. Sichel has done a respectable job by combining relevant and easy-to-understand information with numerous chat and bulletin boards.

Nine sections greet visitors on the front page "Me," "Us," "Family," "Work," "Women," "Men," "Anxiety," "Depression" and "Recovery" each containing, on average, 30 articles written by a team of licensed psychotherapists. Sources usually are listed at the bottom of each page.

Other material comes from research studies done by the National Institute of Mental Health as well as a variety of academic and professional mental health publications.

A quick look through the types of articles, "10 Tips for Surviving a Feast With Your Family," "First Morning Sickness Then Childbirth Now Depression?" and "Real Men Don´t Ask for Directions," which looks at poor self-esteem in men, shows that the site preaches problem-solving and understanding but avoids focusing on material geared solely at clinical diagnoses. Call it Ann Landers explanations from experienced practitioners.

Additionally, many common disorders, such as depression, bulimia, seasonal affective disorder (the winter blues), alcoholism and even Internet addiction, are explored.

Acting as a constant reminder that Psybersquare needs to make money, a book selection (complete with cover, author, price and synopsis) is available at the end of every article and can be purchased through Amazon.com with a click of the mouse.

Self-help tools and a community environment make up the site´s second wave of assistance. The site loves lists tips on avoiding the wrong therapist, 10 commandments to keep a relationship harmonious while its bulletin boards allow visitors to throw out problems as specific as a mother´s efforts to deal with a daughter´s psychologically unstable boyfriend.

Finally, Mr. Sichel, licensed clinical social worker Cindy Kasovitz and addiction expert Guy Kettelhack are at visitors´ disposal to answer questions on topics such as overeating, fear of spiders and Epstein-Barr virus.

Ease of use:

An eye-pleasing design, useful articles and community features do not make up for the sites lack of navigation help. Having no search engine or site map leaves visitors to roam aimlessly through the sections, trying to find information relating to their specific needs. Although lots of links and lists exist, I would appreciate a bit more flexibility in quickly finding answers.

Dont miss:

Psybersquares newest feature provides a fairly comprehensive series of articles designed to address specific psychological problems by means of interactive exercises, clinical information and case studies. I was impressed with the 14-part module on how to cope with panic disorder, which includes where to get help, symptoms, quick facts and common treatments.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet changes constantly. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it´s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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