When the COVID-19 pandemic began a handful of years ago, so much of the world had to adapt quickly. One of those adaptations was the move from in-person to online platforms for a variety of careers. Therapy was one such career.
My Opinion on Online/Teletherapy
Personally, as an individual and couples’ therapist, who works with a wide range of clients with a myriad of concerns, much of which surrounds self-esteem, intense conflict, communication difficulties, depression, anxiety, stress, relationship problems, and trauma, and as someone who has practiced almost exclusively online since the pandemic began (so for about 5 ½ years), I have come to one confident conclusion.
I have seen absolutely no difference whatsoever between in-person and online therapy in the results my clients experience or report. And, this is unsurprising to me.
Therapy involves an objective person, who is particularly trained and skilled in active listening, validation, helping people feel safe, and understanding a vast array of knowledge and skills to help people live their best lives. It is that person’s job to give their clients every bit of their skills and energy every second of every minute for 50 minutes usually on a weekly basis. And, in that time, it is that person’s job to both convey s/he hears the person, understands their world, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, experiences, and hopes, and then gives them tools and skills to help them materially improve their lives. Whether a therapist is seeing you from behind a computer or is sitting across from you in a room, s/he can achieve these same things.
What the Research Tells Us About Online/Teletherapy
In 2021, the American Psychological Association, the governing body for psychologists, reached out to therapists across the country in a COVID-19 Telehealth Practitioner Survey. 1,141 psychologists responded to this survey and, of those, 96% of them agreed that online therapy/teletherapy was an effective treatment and 93% of them reported an intention to continue to offer this format once the pandemic ended.
In 2018, Carlbring, Andersson, Cuijpers, Riper, and Hedman-Lagerlof, completed a meta-analysis (which is a study that combines the results of several studies). The title of their study, Internet-Based vs. Face-to-Face Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Psychiatric and Somatic Disorders: an Updated Systematic Review, examined the results of these two types of therapy for those in cognitive-behavioral therapy for those suffering from common psychological conditions: depression and anxiety. This study, which looked at the results of 20 separate studies on the topic and included over 1,400 clients, found that there was no meaningful difference between only therapy and in-person therapy, including no difference in client satisfaction or benefits gained.
Then again, in 2020, Novella, Ng, and Samuolis reached the same conclusions in a study titled, a Comparison of Online and In-Person Counseling Outcomes Using Solution-Focused Brief Therapy for College Students with Anxiety.
In this study, the researchers randomly assigned college students with mild to moderate levels of anxiety to online or in-person therapy and discovered that here too, there was no difference in the modalities in clients’ reported experience or regarding alleviating clients’ anxiety.
Additionally, older and younger clients seem to appreciate similar benefits from both online and in-person therapy, as discovered by Belanger and Winsberg in their 2022 study entitled Do Older Adults Benefit from Telepsychiatric Care: Comparison to Younger Adults.
While much of these results apply largely to clients suffering from mild to moderate struggles, Miu, Palka, Glowacki, and Robinson found similar benefits for online therapy extend beyond these populations. In their 2020 study, Teletherapy with Serious Mental Illness Populations During COVID-19: Telehealth Conversion and Engagement, these researchers found that when the COVID-19 pandemic began, those suffering from severe mental illness were just as likely as others to begin therapy for the first time through the online format.
Additionally, this study revealed that those with severe mental illness were more likely to maintain consistency with online therapy. These are particularly noteworthy findings when one considers that those with severe mental illness often delay beginning therapy and are more likely to drop out of treatment than others. This study seems to convey that online therapy may make mental health services more accessible for those who might otherwise prolong beginning therapy or may stop engaging in treatment.
Benefits of Online Therapy
- Engage in treatment from the comfort of your home
- Skip sitting in your car and in traffic to-and-from the therapist’s office
- Avoid spending money on gas for the weekly/bi-weekly trips to-and-from the therapist’s office
- Get the same quality of help and results from anywhere in your state (or in a different state if your therapist happens to be licensed there)
- Because you receive therapy out of your home, this could make scheduling the session times a much more convenient process for you
- If you are a couple, enjoy the opportunity for you and your partner to be in two different locations and still be able to have a session together
- If you live in a remote/rural area, online therapy could be your best option, as there may be few or no mental health practices in your location
- Help your therapist save thousands of dollars each year. When you agree to see your therapist online, your therapist then doesn’t have to rent an office space each week. Additionally, when you help your therapist in this way, it becomes infinitely easier for your therapist to then be able to offer you more affordable options for working together.
Why Does Online Therapy Get a Bad Reputation
You may have had a poor experience with an online therapist because that particular therapist was less experienced or not terrifically skilled.
That experience, then, could have colored your perception about the general quality of online therapy. The reality is, though, just as there are plenty of less-than-ideal in-person therapists out there, the same is true for online therapists.
You may have had a poor experience with an online therapist because either his/her audio/internet connection was poor, yours was, or some mix of both.
If you worked with an online therapist and found his audio and/or internet connection was poor, that’s unfortunate. I would encourage you, however, to try to recognize that was his/her problem and not one inherent to the platform of online therapy. An online therapist who values respect and professionalism will make it a consistent priority to ensure s/he has a quality audio and internet connection for you to have the best experience. Additionally, if you had a poor past experience with online therapy because of poor internet and/or audio on your part, then I encourage you to use that as feedback for you (not on the status of online therapy).
Many people have preconceived notions about online versus in-person therapy (and online versus in-person experiences in general).
Is it far more enjoyable to spend time with your favorite friends and family members in person than through zoom? Absolutely. Is it more enjoyable and beneficial to see your therapist in-person as opposed to through an online platform? Technically no. There is no piece of data we have that suggests there is any verifiable reason in-person therapy is more enjoyable or beneficial than online. Many, however, have this preconceived notion that in-person therapy is somehow better (perhaps because that is predominantly how us humans have engaged in therapy for most of its existence).
Many people incorrectly believe that when working with a therapist online, s/he “misses out on body language”, which makes the experience ineffective or less effective.
This is untrue. In online therapy, you and your therapist have the same access to each other’s tone of voice, body language, and overall demeanor. Additionally, in online therapy, you should be able to see each other from the waist up (and that is where all the important body language information is contained, displayed, and acquired). With both forms of therapy, both parties see each other’s faces (ears, eyebrows, noses, mouths, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands). To the best of my knowledge, I have never heard of a therapist or client expressing a benefit in seeing each other’s legs or feet.
But what about…energy?
If you are the type of person who puts a lot of stock into the idea of “energy” between you and others as a critical foundation for connection, perhaps online therapy is not right for you. I am a very data and science-based person and therapist and, as such, I do not adhere to this concept of “energy”. Is it possible that such an idea exists and it’s just hard to identify and study? Sure. Is it possible there is less quality energy in online therapy? It’s possible. This is just not something I have found any evidence for, but certainly, if this is something you believe in, and you feel makes a difference, go ahead and consider in-person therapy as your potential only option.
Learn More about the Benefits of Online Therapy in Oregon, California, Oregon, and Florida
Opening up to a therapist and deciding you want and deserve an improvement is hard enough. You may not want to make it harder than it needs to be by leaving the comfort of your home, sitting in your car for 30 minutes to an hour or so once a week, and spending money on gas. One way to make it a whole lot easier is through online therapy.
- Schedule a free consultation
- Meet with our therapist at Stress Solutions in California, Oregon, or Florida.
- Start receiving the support you deserve from the comfort of your home!
Other Services Offered with My Stress Solutions
Online therapy isn’t the only service our team offers. Other services offered include therapy for stress, anxiety, trauma, EMDR, and overcoming addictions. We are happy to provide support for both individuals, couples, and men via in-person and online therapy. Visit our blog or learn more about us for more helpful info today!