ReliefSeeker

What Is Online Therapy?

Author: Sarah Ryan

Gone are the days of referring to mental health and going to therapy as weird or something that only sad people do. Seeking professional help and talking about mental health has become a topic that most people are no longer afraid to talk about or feel taboo.   

Online therapy provides people access to a wide variety of therapy services offered by qualified practitioners from the comfort of their couch. We can’t deny that technology has impacted close to everything in our lives, and therapy is no exception. There are now many online therapy platforms that allow everyday people to connect with a licensed therapist through a handful of secure mediums, including chat rooms, video sessions, and phone calls.  

Online therapy is also great for people living in rural or remote areas, and let’s be real, more people in 2020 have chosen to leave large cities to find a place that is less congested and much less expensive, however, finding a qualified therapist in those areas can be much more difficult, especially if you’re looking for a therapist that specializes in treating unique conditions, such as Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Complex PTSD), which isn’t recognized by most mental health circles. 

While online therapy has received a fair share of criticism from many people in the medical field, there have been incredible advancements in technology, which has greatly improved the way online therapy can be approached, giving people the same or similar benefits of in-person therapy. 

What is Online Therapy?

Online therapy, also referred to as teletherapy and e-therapy, allows individuals struggling with a variety of concerns, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, or addiction, to receive support from highly trained and educated therapists and counselors who can assist them through their issues and manage their symptoms via an online platform. In general, therapists, at a minimum, hold a graduate degree in psychology, counseling, or another related field. The services provided by an online therapist are similar to the services provided by a traditional, face-to-face therapist with the goal of assisting patients in reaching their mental health goals.   

Connecting virtually with a therapist is probably easier than you think and can happen in various ways. 

Ways to communicate in online therapy include:

  • Email

  • Text messaging

  • Real-time chat

  • Internet phone

  • Videoconferencing

  • Mobile device apps

A computer can be used to utilize these services, but mobile apps are quickly becoming popular as you can be on-the-go and need to talk to a therapist. 

These services may be provided synchronously (connecting at the same time, as in video sessions) or asynchronously (connecting through messaging - not interacting simultaneously).

Benefits of Online Therapy

Online therapy has many benefits, and one of the primary factors that go into choosing an online therapist is your own convenience. 

Other benefits include:

  • No travel time

  • No need to arrange for childcare

  • Scheduling appointments outside of traditional office hours

  • Being in the comfort of your own space

  • Accessibility for those with physical limitations 

  • Affordability

  • Insurance usually isn’t necessary 

  • Accessible for those in remote or rural areas

One important thing to consider before choosing an online therapist is that most state regulatory boards and professional, ethical codes prevent providers from treating clients outside of the state’s issuing practitioner’s license, which means that you can expect the psychologist or therapist will either be living in the same state or is licensed in the state you’re residing in. 

Brief History Lesson of Online Therapy

Some say that distant communication between a therapist and their clients began with Sigmund Freud when he would exchange letters to treat patients. Still, the use of modern technology became more widely available in the 1980s when therapists would communicate with their clients via phone, then in 1986, Cornell University introduced a public forum style of counseling; a place for people to ask questions about mental health to a trained therapist. Finally, in the mid-1990s, with the advancement of technology, video conference therapy sessions began to be offered. With its increased popularity and new research, it continues to gain respect for mental health. That said, as research continues to point in a positive direction toward being just as efficient as in-person sessions, those who are comfortable using technology will be more encouraged to utilize the many benefits of online therapy. 

Is Online Therapy Effective?

Online therapy can be effective in helping support, manage, or treat a variety of mental health concerns. Since online therapy is still relatively new, research appears to be mixed when it comes to whom might benefit most or which conditions can be treated effectively through online therapy. However, it is generally accepted by medical professionals that the majority of mood and behavioral issues can be managed and treated using online therapy.  

Online therapy can be effective to treat the following: 

 

While the American Counseling Association does not currently have competencies for online therapy, the American Psychology Association currently has practice guidelines for online therapy. There is an intentional push towards increasing the efficacy of this practice. Both the ACA and the APA have incorporated online therapy into their ethical standards and seem to understand this service.

 

With any form of therapy treatment, it is important to know that the first therapist or psychologist you speak to may not be the right fit for you. Keep trying and try not to feel discouraged about seeking help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed about finding an online therapist, maybe ask a trusted friend or family member to help you on your journey. You are not alone.  

Types of Online Therapy

Online therapy can vary based on the needs or the symptoms of each person. Online therapy is highly accommodating to a client's needs due to the many convenient options available.

Common types of online therapy include:

Messaging

This form of therapy allows clients to chat with a therapist via text message, chat rooms, app-based messaging, or email. Please know that every state does not accept this form of therapy, and it is up to the therapist to enforce boundaries during this type of communication.

Voice Session

Phone sessions have been around for more than a half-century. The general consensus is that there is an element of communication lost when relying solely on one’s voice instead of incorporating body language. Voice sessions may be a good starting point for those apprehensive about connecting with a therapist online due to social anxiety.

Video Sessions

Oftentimes when someone thinks of online therapy, they envision meeting with a counselor by connecting through video on a computer. This form of online therapy, also known as videoconferencing, is most closely aligned with traditional talk therapy and provides many benefits to the client and the counselor. Meeting through video connecting services, clients can discuss issues, problem-solve solutions, identify patterns, understand communication styles, gain insight into thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, learn new ways of coping, and prevent future issues.

Even in this missing component of not being in the same space, video therapy sessions allow the therapist to consider body language, facial expressions, and other visual interaction patterns. This added component of communication may be the most efficient form of online therapy and the one most preferred by clinicians.

How to Find an Online Therapist

It is important to find a therapist you trust, whether in-person or online. Be sure to find a therapist who is certified and you know will meet your specific needs. Remember, you are not alone. Many services can help you find other people experiencing the same things as you are. If you’re feeling isolated or alone in this journey, joining a support group might really help - find a support group for just about anything on Wisdo

Another online therapy platform to think about using is Talkspace. Talkspace will connect you with a licensed therapist that will help you to navigate through anything you might be struggling with. Something unique about Talkspace that we love is that they not only see individual patients, they also specialize in Couples and Teen Therapy. And, if you're looking for a combination of therapy and someone to prescribe medication, Talkspace has that too, with its Psychiatry arm of the business. To read more about Talkspace and what they can offer you in the online therapy department, check them out, here.

Who is Able to Offer Online Therapy?

While some states may allow bachelor-level trained individuals to perform some forms of therapy under supervision, the vast majority of online therapy services are provided by masters and doctorate level clinicians. 

Some reports of individuals without proper credentials are being accepted as providers on some platforms who offer online therapy. While this may be an issue, faking credentials to access these platforms seems rare and not unique to online therapy.

Federal licensure standards for mental health providers are lacking, and each state is responsible for determining the rules around licensure and service delivery. Some states may not allow some forms of online therapy, and others may require special certifications or credentials to offer these services. Online therapy is relatively new, and many state licensing boards are working to build regulations and rules around the offering and using online therapy.

Risks of Online Therapy

While there may be a difference in the connection virtually, online therapy may be a good supplement to traditional therapy, and its usefulness should not be overlooked. One of the concerns mentioned in using technology to connect with an online therapist is the typical issues, such as failed connection, service interruption, and glitches in connectivity.

 

Final Thoughts

While research suggests that online therapy can be an effective option, that does not mean that it is right for everyone. More serious forms of mental illness, including substance abuse, addiction, and psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia usually require more than online treatment can provide. 


It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor before determining if online therapy is right for you. 



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Sarah Ryan

Sarah covers mental health, parenting, and women's health-related issues at ReliefSeeker. As a mother of two wonderful kids with a long career in marketing & media, Sarah's perspective on access to world-class healthcare connects to both heart and mind.

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