It is a fact that many people who need help with their mental health often don’t seek it. A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report have it that nearly three in every five Americans with a mental disorder failed to seek care. There are diverse reasons why that may be so.
Widespread use of the Internet has led to the rise of online therapy. This helps more people to overcome the obstacles that hinder them from seeking help the traditional way. But does the rising popularity of online therapy also mean that it is better than conventional, in-person therapy?
Understanding the Therapy Options
Traditionally, a person with a mental health issue would visit a therapist in search of help. You go to an office to speak with an expert face-to-face and discuss whatever challenges that you have. Apart from just talking with you, this approach offers a therapist a chance to better capture your body language.
Online therapy, on the other hand, is offered strictly over the internet. You will be wherever you are while you have your session with a therapist on the other end of the connection. This approach, also known as remote or virtual therapy, has become increasingly popular in the aftermath of the pandemic.
A variety of methods are used for the delivery of online therapy, including:
- Messaging – This involves the exchange of messages between your therapist and you. It could be text, voice, and/or video messages. You leave a message and they reply to you when they can – and vice versa. This type of session could also take place in an online chatroom.
- Telephone – You could also have live sessions with a therapist over the phone. This is much like the traditional approach, except that you don’t get to see each other.
- Live video – Video-assisted technology has taken things even further. A therapist and their client can have live video sessions enabling them to both see and talk to each other. This might be done using third-party platforms such as Skype and Zoom.
The form of communication for online therapy sessions would depend on your preference and/or that of your therapist.
Which of the two therapy options is better for you? Let’s consider some pluses and negatives to help guide your decision.
Advantages of Online Therapy
One of the major things that remote therapy has in its favor is convenience. It’s no secret that many people would rather not exert themselves to get something these days. They’d prefer to be in their comfort zones and do what they want, if possible.
Online therapy eliminates the stress of commuting and waiting at a therapist’s office. You simply turn on your phone or computer and you are good to go.
It can also be argued that the use of technology makes therapy accessible to more people. Patients that would otherwise not seek help are encouraged to do so. For instance, people who live in remote areas with no therapists can find them online.
Online therapy may also make it possible to get access to a therapist outside normal office hours. Finding the best virtual sessions that are most suitable for different groups of individuals isn’t a difficult thing at all.
Many people who do not seek mental health care are afraid of being seen. They fear a visit to an expert could get tongues wagging, so they’d rather forego it.
Thanks to online therapy; you can be in the secret of your home and have a session. No one gets to know that you have been speaking with a therapist.
This might not have been considered a benefit in the past, but it is now with the coronavirus pandemic. Many people are extra careful of where they go these days to avoid being infected.
Virtual therapy seems to have become the norm for this reason. It helps to prevent mixing with people who might be carrying the virus. Therapists also limit the number of in-person sessions they conduct because of this.
Disadvantages of Online Therapy
One thing with technology is that it is not 100% reliable. There’s no telling when your computer or device could start acting up. You may find it difficult to establish a connection when you need to talk to a therapist urgently. If you do manage to connect, unexpected interruptions are also possible.
It may also be argued that virtual sessions offer a less holistic experience. The personal touch that exists between a patient and their therapist is somewhat reduced. As a result of not being in the same place, certain cues that might help a therapist to be more effective may be missed. Some providers actually say they do not feel as effective with online therapy.
Chances are higher that you may find yourself working with a therapist that isn’t well trained. You can’t be too sure of what someone is claiming online. Unqualified or less-skilled providers are more likely to operate online.
However, this may not be that much of a problem. There are platforms online (e.g. BetterHelp) through which you can connect with licensed, experienced counselors.
Insurance coverage concerns
You may not be able to pay for virtual sessions with insurance. Online therapy is more recent, relative to traditional in-person therapy, and so some insurers may not cover it.
Insurance companies are more likely to cover therapies with decades of research to back them. So you want to confirm if your therapy would be covered by your insurer if you have insurance and whether your therapy provider would accept such.
Advantages of In-Person Therapy
More holistic treatment
This is one benefit that traditional therapy advocates will be quick to mention. In-person therapies are argued to offer a more holistic experience than virtual sessions. They enable therapists to do more thorough assessments of patients, factoring in body language and other cues.
An experienced provider typically uses all of their senses for evaluation in traditional settings. This enhances a powerful therapist-client relationship.
The efficacy of traditional therapy has been widely researched. For decades, scientists have investigated their use for the treatment of a variety of disorders. The wealth of available evidence explains why insurance companies are more willing to cover payment for it than online therapy.
Whether online or in-person, providers have a duty of abiding by the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). But the traditional approach may have a slight edge in terms of confidentiality. Some online platforms may not have enough safeguards to ensure your health information is well protected.
Therapists must have a license to be able to practice and licensing requirements vary between states. You can be surer that you’re working with a qualified provider when going the in-person way.
A therapist working the traditional way will find it extremely difficult practicing in a state without having a license. A counterpart operating online, on the other hand, might get away with operating without one.
Disadvantages of In-Person Therapy
A major downside of traditional therapy is the problem of accessibility. Therapists may not readily be accessible, especially in rural areas. People in need of help are thus automatically denied care.
You are usually not able to see a therapist if their office is closed. In-person sessions somewhat limit how often you can consult with a provider.
Some people may go without the needed therapy because they are reluctant to endure the inconvenience and discomfort that could go with seeking it. Possible issues can include traffic hassles and time to be spent in a waiting room.
Even if you manage to overlook these problems initially, they might make it difficult to follow through with appointments down the line.
Unfortunately, people who seek in-office therapy often have to battle with a feeling of embarrassment. There is still some stigma attached to psychotherapy.
Individuals seeking may be treated or suspected to be mentally unstable if seen by others. Some persons could start to be extra cautious around them while also warning others to do the same. This makes people who need mental health help to be hesitant to go for it to avoid the shame.
Which One is Better?
This brings us to the question of which to choose between these two therapy options. Well, the answer is not a clear-cut one. Individual preferences and needs would determine that while considering the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
There is evidence that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy. It has been shown to be efficacious for diverse disorders that traditional psychotherapy helps with. In fact, some studies suggest that patients may require 7.8 times less for therapy with virtual sessions.
Therapists often charge the same fee regardless of whether you are having an online or in-person session. It is possible, however, to pay less with virtual sessions, especially when going through third-party platforms such as BetterHelp or TalkSpace. The method of communication also influences pricing.
It is important to note that online therapy isn’t for everyone. Persons with severe mental disorders, including, major depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, or suicidality issues may not find it suitable. In-person sessions would be more fitting for such cases.