The term “internet addiction” was coined in 1995, but it was proposed as somewhat of a joke, and was not meant to be taken seriously. Online access at home was a relatively new development and people who checked their email several times a day may have proclaimed themselves to be “addicted” to the internet.
Today the concept of online addiction is seriously debated among psychologists and psychiatrists and may eventually be included in official classification manuals of mental health disorders.
Individuals who have difficulty setting reasonable limits on their internet habits (for example, online shopping, gambling, video games, pornography, chatting, web surfing, etc.) have started to seek treatment from mental health professionals.
Those looking for suitable internet addiction treatment from a psychologist or therapist should keep the following five points in mind.
1. If possible, choose someone who specializes in the treatment of internet, video game, or online addiction. The treatment of internet addiction is very new to the psychological community, but requests for help are growing with each passing day. Five years ago it would have been very difficult to find a psychologist who had any experience treating internet addiction and virtually impossible to find one who specialized in this form of treatment. Today however, the number of specialists is growing and many psychologists are gaining experience helping people with internet and video game addiction.
But, what if an internet addiction specialist is not available?
2. Choose someone who is comfortable working with other forms of addiction – gambling addiction in particular. Compared to alcohol or drug addition, the psychological principles underlying excessive gambling behaviors are more similar to those underlying the various forms of internet addiction. Also, the techniques used to treat gambling addiction may be more easily modified to help those addicted to the internet.
3. Consider choosing a psychologist who is younger and perhaps more familiar with the technology involved with internet addiction and/or online gaming – even if he / she does not specialize in helping those addicted to the internet. Choosing a younger psychologist certainly does not guarantee that he / she will be familiar with the technology, but a psychologist in his or her 30s is more likely to be knowledgeable in this area. It is fairly important that the psychologist has at least a basic understanding of modern technology and / or online video games. There is a trade-off of course, as younger psychologists will generally not have as much experience compared to those who have been practicing for many years.
4. Try to choose someone who takes internet addiction seriously and does not automatically dismiss unhealthy online habits as simply the expression of a deeper psychological issue. Excessive online habits can be triggered by other issues (e.g., depression), but it can also lead to and co-exist with other psychological difficulties. Internet addiction should not automatically be thought of as a symptom of another disorder.
5. Consider choosing a psychologist who practices primarily from a cognitive-behavioral (CBT) orientation. In brief, CBT is a form of therapy that relies heavily on empirical validation, challenging unhealthy thought processes, and implementing behavioral interventions. To date, CBT has generally been considered the modality of choice for video game and internet addiction treatment.