The Experience of In-Person Versus Online Therapy

man holding smartphone on couch

The majority of clients at Talkspace are trying therapy for the first time. With only online therapy as a frame of reference, they can’t draw comparisons to in-person treatment. This fact demonstrates, however, that online therapy removes barriers — high cost and inconvenience — that typically deter people from seeking professional mental health support.

Nonetheless, many users have extensive experience inside a therapist’s office. Some commuted to weekly therapy sessions for years before switching to online therapy. Others have continued their in-person treatment and used Talkspace as a complimentary service.

To illustrate what it is like to navigate the differences between in-person and online therapy, we surveyed our clients who had been open about their experiences with both. Here is what they taught us:

Traditional Therapy Can Feel Like a Break from Life

When clients enter a therapist’s office, the rest of the world and their daily responsibilities remain in the waiting room. Traditional therapy sessions offer a physical space where there is nothing but dialogue on important mental health issues. This experience can feel like a respite from the stresses of work and relationships.

“I looked forward to that time to get away,” said Ricardo, a Talkspace client, of his time attending weekly therapy sessions in an office.

Online therapy is less likely to offer this feeling detachment because one of its primary values is the ability to engage with a therapist at any time and any place. Talkspace clients often text their therapists in the middle of the workplace, at home, or when they’re out. The tradeoff from this peaceful escape is immediacy.

In-Person Therapy Can Provide More Accountability and Interventions

Other of clients reported that it’s easier for therapists to keep them accountable when they can constantly read their body language. One of our clients admitted she sometimes prefers in-person therapy because of this advantage.

“I’m not able to hide in-person,” she said.

Receiving care in an office can be essential for people with conditions that are sometimes difficult to treat with online therapy alone, such as severe post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. Renee, another Talkspace client, relies on in-person interventions, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy [EMDR], to treat her PTSD. The in-person interactions are especially useful, Renee said, when she needs help stopping herself from “dissociating” (mentally leaving a situation).

“I tend to intellectualize everything, which I can get away with a lot more when I am online and texting as opposed to being with another person in a room,” Renee said. “I need a therapist’s physical presence.”

Switching to Online Therapy to Save Money and Time

Unfortunately, the benefits of traditional therapy and in-person treatment have costs, most notably the time spent commuting and the often expensive price of a session. Both Ricardo and Ashley, another one of our clients, moved from in-person to online therapy to save money and time.

“I had to buy a $20 round trip train ticket into the city and go an hour each way to get to my appointment,” Ashley said. “It made me hate going to therapy.”

Her therapist charged $75 for each 45-minute session, so the total cost was $95 and about three hours. Texting therapy has allowed Ashley to be more productive and put more of her earnings in the bank.

Using Online Therapy to More Easily Find a Better Match

For people who don’t live in big cities with diverse populations, it can be difficult to find an in-person therapist who understands their culture, sexual orientation, or mental health condition. Both in his hometown and at college, Justin struggled to find a professional he thought was a good match.

“I tried Talkspace because I liked that you could pick a specialty such as LGBT therapy or work directly with someone who deals with patients who suffer from anxiety,” Justin said.

Online therapy offers instant access to hundreds of therapist profiles, and clients don’t have to narrow their search based on distance. This wide array of options makes it easier to quickly find someone who specializes in working with minority clients or treating specific illnesses.

The Constant Support of Texting Therapy

Because of his relentless anxiety and depression, Ricardo felt like the once-a-week schedule of traditional therapy often left him alone when he needed help. To receive consistent, daily support, Ricardo tried Talkspace. Rather than waiting between sessions, he texted his therapist every time he was struggling or needed to express something. This approach ultimately worked better for him, and he stayed with his Talkspace therapist for more than two years.

Both In-Person and Online Therapy Can Foster a Deep Connection

When Ricardo began using Talkspace, he was skeptical about whether an online method could provide as strong a therapeutic alliance as in-person work. But there was “something freeing” about online therapy that made him more open and fostered a deep connection with his first Talkspace therapist. The ability to write long paragraphs and send them at any time was liberating.

Combining Both Options for Complete Support

Although Renee benefitted from her in-person mental health appointments, she felt vulnerable outside of the office. By using Talkspace as a source of additional support, she has made faster progress and dedicated more time to challenging cognitive distortions.

What Do You Want to Try?

The tendency to compare in-person and online therapy is natural and often useful. There isn’t a competition, though. Treatments in offices and facilities will always have a place and are necessary for people with certain conditions. Online therapy tends to be more convenient and cost-effective.

No matter what medium you try, psychotherapy is clinically-proven to improve mental health and well-being. If you are ready to have your own client story, give therapy a try.

Published by

Joseph Rauch

Staff Writer at Talkspace