If you search for “therapists near me,” you might find almost every therapists’ web page with the same disclaimer: We are only offering online therapy at this time. This is one small example of the “new normal” since the pandemic began. Many people have made the switch to online therapy and continue to attend every week. Some people even started therapy for the first time in 2020, and to this day have not met their therapist in-person. Some of us have experienced new levels of grief and anxiety for the first time, while others are seeing long-standing issues push to the surface. I can’t help but wonder: what, if anything, gets lost in translation through online therapy? Is online therapy the best way to deliver therapy? Is it here to stay?
Benefits of Online Therapy
The clear benefit that many find about online therapy is the convenience. Now people can access care from the comfort of their own home. They can schedule sessions during their lunch break or in between meetings. Without the added time for a commute, more people have space in their day to invest in themselves.
As long as a therapist is licensed in your state of residence, you should be able to seek online treatment from them. This opens the door for more accessible care. If you live in a rural area, your in-person options could be limited. Some clients are seeking help from therapists with a specific area of expertise, like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). If there is no one in your city or town that specializes in this, then online therapy could be a great resource to find a therapist who is a great match for you.
Furthermore, studies have shown that there is no significant difference in effectiveness between in-person and online therapy. There was also no difference in client satisfaction across both methods. It can be daunting to meet someone in-person for the first time, especially when the goal is to be open and vulnerable. With online therapy, you can take comfort in sitting on your sofa, maybe having a pet nearby or curled up in a soft blanket.
Knowing that you’re safe and secure in an environment that brings you peace can help you start the journey to heal. Being prepared and setting intentions before your first session can help tremendously as well. If you’re intimidated by therapy, or find the process overwhelming, online counseling could be a gentle first step.
Drawbacks of Online Therapy
Online therapy is not without its drawbacks. Without being able to interact face-to-face, there are going to be cues or body language that the therapist might miss. A trained professional will notice the way a client holds themselves in space and convey their feeling through body language. These small cues help the therapist make an accurate assessment and diagnosis. Certain concerns require more care as well. If someone is struggling with suicidal intent or psychosis, online therapy is not recommended. It can be harder for a therapist to intervene in the event of a crisis.
Another drawback of online therapy is the lack of transitions before and after therapy. I know one of my favorite things about attending therapy in-person was the time I had to myself afterwards. Driving home from the office, I was able to decompress and reflect on everything my therapist and I had talked about. It was such valuable time to myself, and I really cherished it. I could make a mental note of what I needed to work on for next week, or just use the time to really feel all of my emotions. With online therapy, that secondary location is gone, and it can make it harder to find the space to process.
There are several factors that will help you have a successful online therapy experience. It is important to have a stable Wifi connection and the privacy to attend sessions. If you live with multiple roommates or with family members, it could be hard to feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics when your conversation might be overheard.
Online Platforms vs. Private Practices
You might have heard of online counseling platforms like BetterHelp and TalkSpace. Instead of a 1-hour session with the same therapist over months or even years, you can access a wide range of providers through text and video calls. These resources are great if you have a busy 9-5 schedule. BetterHelp also has the option for you to sign up for a weekly membership. This allows you to explore online therapy without feeling any pressure to commit. It can also be much more affordable than traditional private practices or centers. Does this discount impact the quality of care clients receive? The evidence points to yes. There is a growing concern in the therapeutic community about the impact of startup mental health companies. At the end of the day, their goal is to make a profit. This can lead to policies that devalue the honesty and depth of a traditional therapeutic relationship. TalkSpace will pay therapists by the word for text message correspondence, which incentivises them to prioritize quantity over the quality of messages. These companies set the tone that therapy can be a mass-produced commodity, rather than a unique and intimate relationship.
At group practices like Thrive for the People, our work is much more tailored to the individual. Our clinicians see a small fraction of the clients each week compared to larger platforms. It allows the clinicians to form a more personal connection, so that together you can set long-term goals. Because of this, our fees are higher and we do not have the same flexibility in our schedule. Check in with yourself, and think about what option is best for you.
Begin Online Counseling in Seattle, Washington
Are you feeling overwhelmed or depleted? If you are motivated to start seeing change in your life, it might be time to seek help with the accountability and structure that a therapist can offer. The talented therapists here at Thrive for the People offer online therapy to treat anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and trauma. We can begin the process of healing from the comfort of your own home with online therapy. Schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation and we can determine the best support for you.