Does online therapy work?
With the spread of coronavirus, our lives have transitioned from the outer, physical world, to the inner, domestic sphere. Most of us have found ourselves relying on our homes to be the space in which we conduct both our working and private lives, and increasingly we have looked to video calling technologies to connect us to colleagues, friends and loved ones to help us maintain vital working and personal connections.
As part of this transition, many people have opted to begin online therapy, either to maintain their existing therapy or to seek new treatment. Online therapy has limitations, but it is quickly becoming an important resource for a growing number of clients. There are a number of reasons why a person might choose an online therapy option, including the convenience and accessibility that this method provides.
While online therapy presents some challenges, it has received support from many patients who have utilized online mental health treatments. In a review of studies published in the journal World Journal of Psychiatry, patients receiving mental health treatment through video conferencing reported “high levels of satisfaction”.
But for some, this transition from traditional face-to-face therapy to online therapy may seem a bit daunting. If you are wondering if online therapy could be for you and whether it is an effective treatment method, it may be worth considering some of the following factors:
Change in space
One of the main differences between face-to-face and virtual therapy is the shift in the space in which the patient-therapist relationship exists in. Whereas traditional therapy typically takes place in a doctor’s office, virtual therapy is bidimensional; therapy takes place simultaneously within your private home space and a shared virtual space via technological means.
This change in space can lead to a decrease in the role of non-verbal communication and can create a sense of disembodiment; our rich variety of communication methods are now more limited and verbal communication takes on an even more crucial role than ever before.
Whilst this may not suit everyone, one of the surprising benefits of the virtualisation of therapy is the ability for this form of communication to foster a greater sense of privacy and intimacy. By having treatment in the familiarity and privacy of your own home, you may feel a greater sense of ease. This sense of comfort creates disinhibition, allowing many to achieve greater therapeutic self-expression and self-reflection.
Furthermore, this change of space may be beneficial for people who have avoided traditional mental health services in the past due to shyness or unease. Working within the privacy of your home may allow you to feel a greater sense of ease and comfort whilst undergoing treatment.
Far from being a disadvantage then, many can benefit from the intimacy which online therapy fosters.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created anxiety and depression for many people, which in turn has increased demand for socially distanced mental health services. Online therapy is a great tool to support people during this time, as it provides a safe alternative to traditional face to face therapy.
According to a recent survey of over 2000 clinicians conducted by the American Psychological Association, 76% have provided only remote services since the onset of the pandemic. This was via mobile phone, telehealth platforms, and video calling platforms. Another 16% responded that they have offered both online and in-person therapy.
If considering whether online therapy is effective, it is worth noting that respondents of the survey, clients and therapists alike, expressed their willingness to continue online therapy even as social distancing restrictions ease. This was due to the success of remotely delivered mental health services during the pandemic.
One of the most obvious advantages of online therapy is the greater access and flexibility in scheduling it allows. If you are someone who has struggled to make time to attend therapy or experienced issues with commuting to a doctor’s office, virtual therapy could be a solution.
Virtual therapy also enables even residents of the most rural areas to access therapists and can also offer more choice of therapists to those with limited options in their area. This is particularly advantageous if you are seeking a professional trained in a certain field of psychology.
By choosing to use online therapy, you may find it easier to find time to attend to your mental wellbeing with a professional of your choosing, ensuring a greater continuity in therapeutic treatment.
Whilst there are now a multitude of online therapy providers, it is vital to ensure that you are seeking guidance from a fully licensed professional, as some platforms do not offer therapy by accredited persons.
It is also important to bear in mind that online therapy requires good internet access and a space in which to connect with your therapist privately, so as well as considering how reputable the therapist is, you should ensure a good technological set up to avoid problems.
Preparing for Your Online Therapy session
Clients who benefit the most from online sessions take the time to prepare themselves and their environment, ensuring that the treatment method does not interfere with the therapy itself.
Before engaging in an online session, perform a technology check-up. Technical difficulties, such as slow internet speed or software glitches, can interfere with the quality of the counselling experience. Make sure to use a password-protected high-speed network and a fully charged computer or mobile device. Close any tabs or apps that might distract you, and test the platform prior to the start of the session.
Concentration is key to a successful session. Clients should choose a quiet, well-lit space that offers privacy, preferably with a door that closes. Ask family members and roommates to avoid your space and ask them to limit external noise to a minimum.
Because sessions last as long as 60 minutes, pay attention to your comfort level. Set up your devices so that you can easily operate them while seated on a comfortable chair. Keep tissues and a glass of water nearby but refrain from eating during the appointment.
Before the session begins, mute notifications on your phone or laptop, and refrain from answering calls or emails during the session.
Not all mental health conditions are suitable for online therapy
It is important to note that not all conditions may be suitable for online treatment. Online therapy is not suitable for people with very severe psychiatric disorders, such as strong suicidal tendencies or borderline personality disorder.
Online therapy remains a good option for people seeking therapy to help with personal growth and fulfilment issues, anxiety disorders, depression, insomnia, psychosomatic disorders, body image issues, eating disorders, couples therapy, and other such problems.
The overall effectiveness of online therapy
The decision to start online therapy is a deeply personal choice, influenced by your personal needs and preferences.
However, it may be helpful for some to note that scientific studies have investigated the effectiveness of online therapy, with several noting that different online therapy interventions have eased symptoms of those suffering from a variety of problems, such as panic attacks (Klein & Richards, 2001) and eating disorders (Robinson & Serfaty, 2001).
Some studies have also compared the effectiveness of online therapy to traditional therapy, with Rochlen, Zack and Speyer (2004) concluding that there are few differences in the processes and outcomes between online and in-person therapy.
So, is online therapy right for you?
Considering these different factors can be a useful tool in deciding whether online therapy is right for you. Whilst online therapy may not be for everyone, studies have shown that it can be an effective way to treat a variety of conditions and the flexibility it affords may help you to achieve a more stable, consistent approach to your mental health.
You don’t need to have a clinically diagnosed condition to benefit from talking to a professional and online therapy can provide an easy avenue for getting started.