Is Online Counseling Effective?
Online counseling, e-therapy, telehealth, online therapy, virtual therapy… (whatever you want to call it) has been around for for a long time. Unfortunately, mental health professionals have been slow to embrace it. Many cite the lack of eye contact and difficulty reading nonverbal cues. Others say that the inability to “connect” with clients negatively affects the success of therapy.
And clients seem to share these same concerns about online counseling.
But seemingly overnight, online counseling has become the only option for access to mental health treatment during this time of social distancing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Many people are anxious, stressed, struggling with isolation, lost their jobs, and would greatly benefit from therapy. And yet, they (and even existing clients) are hesitant to try online counseling. They say, “It’s not the same,” or “My issue can only be addressed in person.” What they’re really saying is:
Is online therapy as effective as in-person therapy sessions?
Research says that it is. Many studies have been done to determine if results of online counseling are any different than face-to-face therapy. Most studies to date have shown that there’s no significant difference between the two, particularly for the treatment of anxiety and depression. More importantly, the benefits of both approaches are sustainable even after a year.
This means that for most people online counseling is an appropriate and effective means of treatment.
There are some instances in which online therapy is not recommended. These are people that need crisis intervention, such as those currently or recently experiencing suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts or attempts, abusive circumstances, or serious psychiatric conditions (e.g. psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, schizophrenia, mania, hypomania).
Others wonder whether online counseling is safe and secure.
And it can be as long as the software the therapist and the client are using is HIPAA and HITECH compliant. While convenient because most people are familiar with them, programs like Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, or Zoom (free version) are not safe and secure for holding online counseling sessions. The good news is that there are many other programs that are compliant and function nearly the same as the ones mentioned above which makes their learning curve minimal.
Online therapy comes with a lot of benefits.
Online therapy offers more accessibility to mental health services than ever before.
Each of us therapists at Envision Wellness have very specific areas of expertise and we’re located in Miami, Florida. In the old days that meant that only people within a certain geographic area could work with us. Online therapy has allowed people looking for specialists in OCD, Chronic Illness, and Relational Trauma as far as Pensacola and Key West to get the help they needed but wasn’t available in their immediate area. The same is true for the American expats living overseas that need therapy in their native language and want a therapist that understands their culture. (Note: Mental health professionals can provide services only in the US state where they are licensed. However, there are no restrictions about providing such services to those in different countries to date.)
Online therapy offers convenience and flexibility.
The great thing about online counseling is that you can schedule an appointment at a time that works for you. Because traffic in Miami sucks, having one less place to drive to might mean you save 45-60 minutes at the end of a long day. That’s time to work out, make a healthy meal, play with your kids, exercise, or go to bed early. Or you had car trouble or maybe your boss sprung something unexpected on you and you need to work late, both of which would mean missing your session. Online therapy lets you pivot quickly when unexpected things come up.
Online counseling offers consistency.
Some people are always on the go. Their jobs and personal circumstances require frequent travel which makes attending an in-person weekly appointment impossible and unrealistic. It also leads to crappy results and experiences in therapy. Online counseling provides a stable point of reference in their hectic schedules. Consistency not only has a powerful grounding effect, it also supports the on-going rewiring of the brain needed to get/feel better.
There’s more privacy with online counseling.
There are people who have concerns about being seen walking in or out of a therapist’s office. They shudder at the thought of being recognized or running into someone they know in the waiting room. Some worry that their voices will carry and others will hear them. Online therapy (and a good set of earphones) eliminates all of these concerns.
Thinking about giving online therapy a try?
There are monthly subscription services like BetterHelp and Talkspace. BetterHelp costs $40-70 monthly and you can text your therapist or do video or phone calls with them. Talkspace starts at $260-396 monthly and you can text and voice message daily with your therapist 5 days a week. This seems affordable, right? But as is often the case, you get what you pay for. The drawbacks are that:
- you don’t get to pick your therapist (one is assigned to you)
- your assigned therapist may be a generalist (i.e. not an expert in your particular concern)
- therapist’s responses are not real-time
- many of these therapists are often newly licensed and many not be seasoned enough for complex cases
- therapists’ attention is divided among many clients on their caseloads and/or have other jobs to earn enough income
But these are viable options for those who have limited budgets, no health insurance, or want to dip their toes in to get a sense of what therapy is like. Because some support is better than nothing at all. If you want to pick your therapist, individualized attention, or you’re looking for a more traditional therapy experience (albeit online), you can find a therapist that does online therapy and specializing in your issue(s) by searching on therapist directories like PsychologyToday.com and OnlineCounseling.com.
At Envision Wellness we’ve been offering online therapy since we opened our doors in 2015.
So for us, COVID-19 isn’t changing a lot about how we work with clients. It’s just changing where we meet with some of our clients. Click here to learn more about how our team approaches online counseling, helps you make your session private in a house full of people, and more. If you’re thinking about starting online therapy, call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult to learn more about how working with one of our therapists using online counseling can help you cope effectively with anxiety, depression, relationship conflicts, and much more.
Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL. Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place. Each therapist has their areas of expertise. Not sure who you’d like to work with? Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.
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