Sometimes when we most need support are the times that are least feasible to attend face-to-face therapy sessions. I often hear clients citing barriers such as:
- The travel time to and from sessions is out of the question with your busy job
- A lack of reliable childcare might keep you from being able to come in
- Coordinating the availability of you, your partner, your babysitter, and your therapist for couples counseling seems nearly impossible
- Living too far away from the office
- Or, when the world is facing a pandemic and asking you to stay home.
If you live far from our offices or have significant barriers that keep you from coming to therapy for face-to-face sessions, teletherapy (using a videoconferencing app on your computer or phone) may be a good option for you. Scriptotherapy is also an option.
The Potential Benefits of Online Therapy
Online therapy offers some benefits over traditional face-to-face treatment:
- Increased Accessibility: People in rural areas or those with transportation difficulties may have easier access.
- Scheduling is more convenient for many people.
- Clients don’t have to worry about seeing people they know in the waiting room.
- It can be easier for some people to reveal private information when they’re sharing it online.
- Individuals with anxiety, especially social anxiety, are more likely to reach out to an online therapist.
The Potential Drawbacks
Although sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, online therapy isn’t for everyone. Here are some potential risks and drawbacks:
- Therapists may miss out on body language and other cues (but an upside to this is an emphasis on putting words to what you’re experiencing)
- Technological issues can become a barrier. Dropped calls, frozen videos, and trouble accessing chats aren’t conducive to treatment.
- If I’m not a good fit for you and you’re seeking online therapy elsewhere, know that some people who advertise themselves as online therapists might not be licensed mental health professionals and sites that aren’t reputable may not keep client information safe.
- It can be difficult to form a therapeutic alliance with someone when meetings aren’t face-to-face.
- It can be difficult for therapists to intervene in the event of a crisis.
- Online therapy isn’t meant for people struggling with things such as suicidal intent or psychosis
What the Research Says
Despite the concerns, research consistently shows that online treatment can be very effective for many mental health issues. Here are the results of a few studies:
- A 2014 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that online treatment was just as effective as face-to-face treatment for depression.
- A 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychological Disorders found that online cognitive behavioral therapy is, “effective, acceptable and practical health care.” The study found the online cognitive behavioral therapy was equally as effective as face-to-face treatment for major depression, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
- A 2014 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy found that online cognitive behavioral therapy was effective in treating anxiety disorders. Treatment was cost-effective and the positive improvements were sustained at the one-year follow-up.