Is Online Counseling Effective and Worth It?

Access to therapy and mental health counsel has become more widely available over the last decade. One of the ways more people have been able to connect with a qualified individual or help group has been through online counseling services. With access to hundreds of experts around the world, you have the ability to discuss and often treat conditions or concerns. However, because it’s not in a traditional face-to-face setting, some may be concerned about the effectiveness of the session and if it’s worth the effort.

When it comes to trying out online therapy, it’s important to consider not only the benefits but the possible setbacks. Teladoc appointments aren’t always helpful for those that need a physical connection. An in-office appointment may encourage you to get out of the house, be accountable about a regular schedule, or be more honest with your answers when in a more “professional” setting. The bottom line is to keep in mind what works for you and provides the best opportunity for improving your mental health. When considering online therapy, here are a few benefits that can help you come to an educated decision.

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Accessibility and Affordability

One of the main benefits online therapy provides is the flexible schedule and accessibility. For those with physically restraining conditions, a congested schedule, or a lack of in-network offices in their area, online sessions provide that crucial second option. Whether it’s through a private practice or online service like MyTherapist, a virtual appointment can encourage an otherwise hesitant patient to attend regular sessions.

In some cases, offices provide a dual option. Some counselors prefer to have more difficult conversations or crisis situations handled in-office, keeping general wellness checks and less frequent updates as online discussions. Others offer regular physical sessions but encourage patients to schedule urgent meetings over the phone or video call.

While many offices provide sliding scale options and alternative payment plans for those without insurance or plans that don’t cover mental health, this doesn’t necessarily take into account additional costs. For in-office visits, a patient may need to take time off of work, drive across town, or pay cancelation fees if a complication arises. Through online programs, the same accessibility contributes to money saved in travel and security, especially for those with families, multiple jobs, or other busy schedules.

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Just as Intimate

A misconception about virtual appointments is that online therapy doesn’t create the same connection a face-to-face interaction facilitates. However, things like body language, discomfort, or even rising anxiety can be noticed via video chat as well. Counselors and patients take several sessions getting to know each other, developing a trusted dynamic, and working on mental health concerns. The right amount of cooperation and effort is crucial in any counseling environment.

In some cases, you may have an easier time being able to tell whether you and an online counselor are a good match. For many people, they’re more comfortable communicating that they’d no longer like to continue appointments over an email rather than in the receptionist’s office or over the phone. It’s important to have a trusted and significant bond with this branch of your support system in order to open up about challenging topics and concerns.

If you’re initially uncomfortable sharing your information with a stranger online, there are many options to provide limited or no information during your discussions. You often have the ability to chat anonymously, through a username, or with whatever data you’re comfortable sharing. Because the goal of any form of therapy is to help educate patients and treat their mental health conditions, the focus is on what can be achieved in the session.

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An Effective Form of Healthcare

The Journal of Psychological Disorders showcased a 2018 study that concluded online therapy services were an “effective, acceptable and practical health care.” Researchers compared internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) for patients with depression and anxiety disorders with face-to-face therapy and bibliotherapy, the use of books for “gaining insight into personal challenges”. The results found that the face-to-face option required almost 8 times more therapist time than iCBT.

The research was based on a similar study in 2010 that argued online therapy for depression and anxiety disorders were effective; however, the background of the 2018 study explained this conclusion was drawn “without data on effectiveness or practicality in routine practice.” Thus, the 2018 study’s goal was to support the data, which the conclusion claiming this objective was met.

Other past studies showed similar conclusions with the evidence additionally supporting the fact that online treatment is considered cost-effective and had lasting effects for positive improvements. While some concerns have been raised about the ability to establish a similar empathetic connection as face-to-face counseling, research has shown that therapists are able to provide treatment, tools, and education just as well even with users that choose to participate anonymously.

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For people that aren’t used to visiting a therapist or have had poor experiences in the past, online therapy could be a fresh starting point for seeking mental health help. When searching for the right options for you and your concerns, consider what kind of treatment you’re looking for, what questions you have, your availability level, and, of course, your comfort zones. You may want to consider a local therapist that has online options, giving you the opportunity to establish virtual contact before making regular visits in person.

With online therapy as a supported form of health care, you can feel comfortable knowing you’ll get a similar form of treatment and education from a virtual form of therapy service to that of an in-office opportunity. It may even be a good idea to talk to your close friends or family members within your support system to get their opinions and recommendations on mental health treatment options. It’s important to remember that your mental health treatment and conversations with a potential therapist should revolve around your needs and concerns. Trust your gut and make a decision based on well-researched information and your essentials.