Online vs. Traditional Therapy: The Pros and Cons

therapist couch client smartphone

The online vs. traditional therapy debate is on! As more people try the computer and smartphone over the couch, both mental health professionals and therapy-goers are discussing the pros and cons.

Online therapy is not trying to replace traditional therapy, but it is a better fit for millions of people. To decide which is best for you — whether you are a potential client or therapist — try weighing the pros and cons in the context of your life.

Online Therapy Pros for Clients

Saving Money Compared to Traditional Therapy

Even with health insurance coverage, traditional therapy costs an average $75-150 per session (usually 45-60 minutes). On the other end of the price spectrum, online therapy can be much lower for a week for unlimited communications.

More Frequent Contact with a Therapist

Many people don’t want to wait a week to chat with their therapist. Online therapy allows therapists and clients to chat multiple times every day. This is crucial for clients who need frequent care.

It’s Convenient

Online therapy can be as easy as sending a text. You don’t need to change your schedule. There are no commutes. If you use texting therapy, you don’t even have to schedule a session.

You Can Express Yourself In Many Ways — Text, Video, Audio and More

Sometimes talking isn’t enough to express what you are thinking and feeling. By using certain forms of online therapy, clients can write, talk with or without video, communicate in real time or asynchronously and even send pictures. They can use any combinations of these mediums at any time.

You Can Start Therapy Right Away

If you use an online therapy network — especially one that doesn’t require health insurance — you can chat with a therapist only hours after signing up (sometimes sooner). The process will take a little longer if the network requires health insurance, but it should still be quick compared to traditional therapy.

The search process can be short as well. Online therapy networks have matching algorithms and specialists who take a few minutes to pair you with a therapist who fits your search queries.

With online therapists who are not affiliated with a network, the process varies depending on the therapist and potential client. It can take many hours to thoroughly search for a therapist who fits your needs and preferences. Once you find the therapist, starting therapy might take anywhere from a day to a month or more.

It Can Be Confidential

Some online therapy networks don’t require identifying information from potential clients. You won’t need to give your name. All they require is a method of payment and email.

Thousands of people prefer this approach because they don’t want to risk friends, family members or co-workers knowing they are going to therapy. The confidentiality offers the privacy, safety and comfort they want.

It’s Good for People with Social Anxiety

If the thought of meeting someone in-person or seeing them face-to-face for the first time makes you nervous, online therapy is for you. By using texting therapy online, you don’t need to meet the therapist or look them in the eye as you dig into sensitive issues.

Online Therapy Cons and Traditional Therapy Pros for Clients

Some People Need the In-Person Interaction

Some clients need body language and vocal tone to effectively communicate with a therapist. They might not be willing to adjust to online therapy.

It’s an issue of preference as well. Some people like the office environment and the act of setting aside a time and place for therapy.

Online Therapy Alone Is Often Not Enough for Severe Mental Health Issues

People need in-person psychotherapy or in-person mental health care from facilities to treat severe mental health conditions that make them a danger to themselves or others. Online therapy can be an effective supplemental resource for these people, but it is not enough on its own.

Some Forms of Therapy Are Difficult or Nearly Impossible Online

Here are a few therapeutic approaches that are difficult or nearly impossible to conduct online:

  • Animal-Assisted Psychotherapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Drama Therapy
  • Expressive Arts Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy [EMDR]
  • Music Therapy
  • Play Therapy

Traditional Therapy Cons for Clients

It’s Expensive

As we mentioned earlier, in-office therapy typically costs between $75 and $150 for a 45-60 minute session. The price can blow past $200 in places like New York City. This is the out-of-pocket cost, the cost insurance doesn’t cover.

The Commute and Scheduling Can Be a Hassle

Commuting to an office during business hours can be difficult. You might need to ask your supervisor for time off. If he or she asks what it’s for, you might not be comfortable telling him or her it’s for therapy. For those who disclose they are are going to therapy, there is the risk of supervisors or co-workers judging or not understanding.

The time it takes to commute is a cost on its own. It could add an extra two hours or more to your day if there isn’t a therapist’s office near your home or work.

If you can’t meet the in-person therapist you want during the times he or she is available, you’re out of luck. You will need to try a different therapist or use online therapy to see the therapist you want.

You Might Need to Wait a Long Time Before Starting Therapy

Let’s say you find an in-office therapist in your area who seems like a perfect fit. The problem is she can’t take new clients at the moment. She’s booked, maybe for months.

Or perhaps she can see you soon, but not as soon as you want. Waiting a few days can seem like an eternity if you are in the middle of a mental health crisis.

You Might Not Like to Talk

If you don’t like talking as a way of expressing feelings and addressing mental health issues, in-person psychotherapy is not for you.

Online Therapy Pros for Therapists

Supplementing Income in a Convenient Way

When therapists practice psychotherapy in an office, there is inevitably some downtime. Clients are late or cancel, health insurance reps put you on hold, there are awkward gaps in your schedule or maybe your caseload isn’t full at the moment.

By working with clients online, therapists can fill these gaps and make more money. This is why most online therapists primarily work in an office and use online therapy to supplement their income.

Learning New Skills and Building Your Career

By getting your feet wet in online therapy, you can learn how to best engage clients using online mediums such as text. If you’re serious about being a great online therapist, you can take courses, train with online therapy networks and earn credentials such as the Distance Credentialed Counselor [DCC]. Building these skills might provide new career opportunities such as management positions in telehealth companies.

Easier to Find New Clients

If you work with an online therapy network, the company will send you potential clients. You can accept or decline them. That’s how easy the process is.

Online Therapy Cons for Therapists

It Won’t Make You as Much Money as In-Office Therapy

There’s a reason why most therapists use online therapy to supplement their income rather than relying on it as the only source. Whether you use a network or not, you can’t charge clients as much for it.

Traditional Therapy Pros for Therapists

Making More Money

Clients are willing to pay much more for in-office therapy than online therapy. Some therapists go so far as specializing in working with wealthy clients who can pay hundreds of dollars per session.

More Training is Available

Because in-person psychotherapy has existed for more than a century, there are hundreds of institutions and methods of becoming skilled in practicing it. It’s much easier to gain skills and keep them updated.

Traditional Therapy Cons for Therapists

The Cost of an Office

Sometimes to make a lot of money, you need to spend a lot of money. Practicing psychotherapy in an office is no exception.

Imagine paying a second rent or mortgage. That’s what therapists need to do to have an office. It’s also a big part of why in-person therapists need to charge so much.

Weighing the Pros and Cons — Making the Best Choice for You

There is no correct or incorrect choice when it comes to the issue of in-person vs. online therapy. Think about your life and what you most value. Do you value tradition more than convenience, in-person interaction more than price?

Ruminate on how each pro and con meshes with your preferences and needs. Either choice will lead you to a happier life.

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Published by

Joseph Rauch

Staff Writer at Talkspace