How Effective is Online Therapy & Does It Work – Pros & Cons

Mental health is essential for our general well-being and overall quality of life. But it can be challenging to deal with on our own. This is where therapy comes in.

When people think of therapy, they often picture a therapist and client sitting in an office talking things through. But with the changing times, advancing technology, and COVID-19, online therapy is now a popular alternative option.

But how effective is online therapy? Does it work? What are its pros and cons?

This article will discuss what online therapy is, whether it’s effective, how it works, and some of its pros and cons to help you determine whether online therapy is for you.

Is Online Therapy Just as Effective as In-Person Sessions?

This is a resounding yes!

According to research by the experts at the University of Alberta amongst many others, online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy

Sevigny, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of educational psychology claims, “We found that outcomes for digitally and remotely delivered psychotherapy are just as good as the effects of face-to-face therapy”.

In addition, a 2017 review from the National Library of Medicine concludes: “Telemental health care can provide effective and adaptable solutions to the care of mental illnesses universally. While being comparable to in-person services, telemental health care is particularly advantageous and inexpensive through the use of current technologies and adaptable designs, especially in isolated communities”.

Online therapy is simply therapy that you can do virtually rather than in-person. Therapists practicing online have to fulfill the same requirements as therapists practicing in person. They still need the required education, licensing, and certification.

How Does Online Therapy Work?

Online therapy – also known as virtual therapy, teletherapy, and e-therapy – is simply therapy or related counselling services conducted over the internet. It can be done through text messaging, emails, audio, or video.

Our online counselling service specifically offers video or over-the-phone sessions. You simply need a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer to connect with a certified counsellor from our online platform.

Benefits and Advantages of Online Therapy

online counselling through secure video appointments
Online therapy can be a great alternative to in-person therapy for a variety of reasons. Here are some of them.

Convenience & Ease of Access

One of the biggest pros of online therapy is the greater access to mental health care it provides. It can basically happen anytime from anywhere.

As long as you have internet access, you can attend therapy sessions from home or wherever else you are. You can save the time and money needed to travel to and from an in-person therapy office.

Accessibility for People with Physical Limitations

Online therapy is ideal for people who might have physical limitations that might make travelling to and from an in-person therapy location inconvenient and/or expensive.

Being able to attend sessions from the comfort of their home allows these individuals to better focus on their mental health and avoid the stress of having to deal with travelling.

Clients Can Avoid Stigma

Going to an in-person therapy session in a clinic, therapist’s office or hospital can feel intimidating, daunting, and embarrassing.

There is also the possibility of the client running into someone they know in the waiting room or in the location where the therapy office is located.

With the stigma surrounding mental illness, many individuals in need of mental health care might avoid getting treatment to avoid the stigma. Thus, online therapy serves as a great alternative.

With online therapy, clients don’t have to worry about being seen by someone they’re acquainted with. It is also a better alternative for people with conditions like social anxiety, panic disorder, or agoraphobia.

Flexible Schedule

With online therapy, scheduling is more convenient – for the client and the therapist.

Scheduling and rescheduling an appointment may be easier since no commute or location booking is involved. It can be beneficial for clients or therapists that have busy schedules either for work, family, or travel.

Treatment Can Be More Approachable from the Comfort of Home

Online therapy can take place virtually where the individual can feel safe and comfortable wherever they are. Also, some people find it easier to be open and honest with their experiences online.

For instance, individuals who have anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety, might find online therapy more comforting and approachable than in-person therapy.

Oftentimes, when someone feels more comfortable, they tend to be more open and honest with their thoughts and feelings. And a client being comfortable, thus more vulnerable and more likely to disclose information, can be beneficial for their treatment.

Potential Drawbacks of Online Therapy

Although online therapy has many benefits and advantages, there are a couple of drawbacks and concerns that people had over the years.

Hard to Read Body Language

One of the biggest concerns regarding online therapy is the difficulty for therapists to observe a client’s non-verbal cues.

Someone’s tone of voice, body language, eye contact, mannerisms, and overall demeanour are essential to a therapist’s evaluation and diagnosis. In addition, these non-verbal and verbal cues provide insight into how the individual might be feeling and what they might be thinking.

Without interacting in person, therapists may miss out on important body language and other non-verbal cues that can help them appropriately and accurately assess their clients.

However, these are primarily concerned with text messaging and emails. Over-the-phone and video sessions maintain some of these non-verbal cues. If a client or therapist is worried about this, face-to-face video chats are recommended.

Not Ideal for More Severe, Intense, or Complex Conditions

Virtual therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for typically mild to moderate conditions. In addition, it can be beneficial for many other mental health and mood disorders.

However, it might not be enough to provide sufficient help for the more severe, intense, or complex conditions.

More intense or immediate in-person interventions and treatments are recommended for specific conditions such as suicidal intent, psychosis, and severe personality disorders.

However, online therapists may be able to direct or refer the client to the necessary in-person treatments or institutions. Or online therapy can supplement existing in-person care the client may already be receiving.

Lack of Response to Crisis Situations

It can be difficult for online therapists to intervene in the event of a crisis, especially if the client is distant. The therapist may also not be in the right jurisdiction to be able to do anything to help their client.

That is why, to go back to the previous point, online counselling is typically not recommended for more severe, intense, or complex conditions.

Inaccessibility to a Private or Quiet Space

While online therapy can be a great convenience and ease of access, one of the cons is that access to physical privacy for the client may be an issue.

In-person therapy provides the client and therapist with a safe, private space where they can talk. However, that can be difficult for online counselling.

For instance, the client may live with someone who might overhear their therapy sessions. Or they may live with someone who may snoop through their emails and texts.

Another example is that the client’s (or even the therapist’s) physical environment might have various disruptions that might make it hard for them to concentrate or communicate throughout the session.

Distractions like construction noises, traffic sounds, children playing, or dogs barking in the background might make it hard for the client to immerse themselves into the therapy session, thus affecting how effective the session could be.

It is recommended for the client to use a password-protected private, personal computer and phone to conduct their sessions. It is also the client’s responsibility to find a safe, quiet place they can go to attend their online sessions, whether that is at their home, office, or car.

Technical Issues Can Be Disrupting

Technical glitches, dropped calls, low-resolution videos, lags, echoing, frozen screens, lost connections, or slow connections can all disrupt the therapeutic process, which can do more harm than good.

It can be frustrating to constantly be disrupted by technical issues, especially when the client is discussing something sensitive or they’re finally deciding to open up.

Virtual therapy may also be a challenge for those who already struggle with technology in general.

To minimize technical issues, it is best to ensure that both the client and therapist have a fast and smooth phone or internet connection. However, occasional disruptions due to technical issues are still inevitable. It’s best for the client and therapist to have a plan on what to do when technical issues arise.

Lack of Intimacy Between Client and Therapist

A common concern when it comes to online therapy is the lack of intimacy or connection between the client and therapist.

Sometimes, online therapy is anonymous, especially when it’s through text messaging and email. Thus, many people question whether virtual contact can provide the same treatment and guidance for individuals interacting with a screen rather than with a real-live person face-to-face.

This all depends on the individual. Some people connect better online while some find it easier to connect in person. Phone and video calls can be more personal and intimate if this is something the client or therapist is worried about.

On the contrary, when clients and their therapists are in a comfortable and familiar setting such as their own home, that might actually make connecting better.

Also, as mentioned before, online therapy can supplement in-person therapy to address this issue (if it’s an issue). For instance, online therapy can happen between in-person sessions or every other week to in-person therapy.

Our Approach to Counselling

Here at Well Beings Counselling, we believe in ease of access. We offer both online and in-person therapy for those times that are needed with offices across Canada.

We offer expertise on a wide range of mental health concerns and counselling areas. All of our therapists are Registered Clinical Counsellors (BCACC), affiliated with the B.C. Association of Clinical Counsellors,  Registered Psychotherapists (RPO), Canadian Certified Counsellors, affiliated with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

Those engaging in online counselling with us can expect the same degree of warmth and non-judgmental listening from our therapists. Our goal is for you to have your story heard with empathy and understanding by someone who truly listens without judging what’s happening within ourselves as individuals along life’s journey. We focus on unconditional support!

We provide individual therapy, therapy for kids and adolescents, and couples therapy.

How Much Does Online Therapy Cost?

Online therapy can range from $140 to $300 based on the therapist’s experience and time, and whether you’re going in as an individual or as a couple.

Learn more about our counselling services fees here.

Final Words

As you can see, online therapy has its pros and cons. However, so does in-person therapy.

Online therapy can be an effective and convenient way to access mental health services, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s for everyone. In the end, it all depends on your preferences and needs as a client.

Interested in trying online therapy? Get matched with one of our counsellors today.

Written By: Estee

Having been raised by an abusive mother, Estee developed an interest in mental health to better learn, understand, and manage the effects the abuse had on her. She holds an Associate’s Degree in English and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with minors in Sociology and Health. Her experiences inspired her to create Hopeful Panda, a blog dedicated to individuals with abusive parents. In her spare time, Estee enjoys cooking, learning, exploring, gaming, drawing, writing, and spending time with her family.

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