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Hundreds of licensed mental health professionals -- and some unlicensed freelancers -- are offering such services through email and online chat rooms.

Even professional associations that once pooh-poohed the practice are now issuing guidelines for online therapy.

"It is all electronically retrievable data." For some people, the nonvisual nature of cybertherapy is what appeals.

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J.-based web page designer, also testifies to the benefits of online therapy -- under the right circumstances.

In 1996, Ainsworth found only 12 therapists willing to counsel her online, and felt confident with only one.

A person's body language reveals a lot about mood, Taintor says.

And the way a patient reacts to a therapist's comments -- perhaps tensing when a sensitive issue is raised -- offers insight into problems. ) Another drawback to cybertherapy is that doctors usually won't prescribe medication online.

(To learn more about the benefits -- and dangers -- of online therapy, see Therapy From a Distance and When Cybertherapy Goes Bad) "It's like fire," says Zebulon Taintor, MD, chair of the American Psychiatric Association's committee on telemedical services.

"It can heat your house or burn it down." For Steele, the advantages clearly outweighed the risks."It was really convenient doing therapy by email," she says."And it was one of the most profound relationships I'd ever had.She found help through a chat room at concernedcounseling.com, where she and her counselor "talked" every Tuesday for a year."I always had trouble talking about my feelings face to face," she says. Stone is the only person I've been able to open up to 100%; he helped me channel my energies in positive ways." Martha Ainsworth, a Princeton, N.Even though he wasn't physically present, he was a huge presence in my life." Ainsworth decided to help others locate reputable online therapists, so she created a consumers guide, "ABCs of Internet Therapy" at her web site,

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