Does Online Therapy Work?

Published on: 20 Oct 2021
woman lying in bed on computer

Online therapy has become more popular than ever. High efficacy rates, convenience, and increased stress and anxiety across society have all contributed to the influx of people who are turning to this alternative form of counseling. 

Have you been wondering is online therapy effective or how does online counseling work? Keep reading as we explore this form of self-help and the rewarding benefits of therapy.

What is Online Therapy?

Online therapy is exactly what it sounds like — telehealth therapy appointments between you and your therapist that are conducted online. Though many people think of it as new, in reality, online therapy has been around for decades.  

Also known as online counseling, virtual therapy, teletherapy, and telepsychology, online therapy has seen a huge uptick in interest in the last couple of years. Demand for quick, easy, and convenient therapy options has made it a common way for people to get help addressing mental health conditions and needs. People searching for mental health help and looking for increased accessibility and affordability have furthered its popularity.

While there have been some questions about how effective online therapy is, research is showing us time and again that this newfangled way of seeking therapeutic interaction is actually working better than some expected. 

Is Online Therapy Effective?

So does online therapy work? The research in regards to online therapy is clear. It can be as, if not more, effective as in-person therapy. 

The Journal of Anxiety Disorders published a study that contains some surprising, and welcoming, results. First, the study shows that in-person, traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), internet-delivered CBT (iCBT), and bibliotherapy have equally effective outcomes. 

The study also suggests that iCBT might require nearly 8 times less therapist time than in-person traditional therapy does to treat anxiety disorders and depression.  

“Online therapy is really the same as in person therapy, it’s just conducted via a digital platform instead of in an office. Digital mental health platforms where you can talk to a therapist from your phone — any time, anywhere — is truly meeting people where they are, which is a cornerstone of therapeutic work.”

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Additionally, research from Yale, NYU, Columbia, and Talkspace on messaging therapy for depression and anxiety is positive. It shows that people reported their anxiety and depression symptoms decreased as a result of seeing a therapist via messaging therapy at Talkspace. These improvement rates are consistent when comparing in-person vs. online therapy.

How Does Online Therapy Work?

Online therapy works by allowing people to make and attend appointments with a therapist in a virtual manner. By connecting through your smartphone, computer, or tablet, you gain all the benefits therapy has to offer without having to physically be in the same room as your therapist.

Today, many therapists offer online therapy sessions, even through private practice. Online platforms like Talkspace also offer subscription-based therapy services and options, making therapy potentially even more affordable. Additionally, online therapy is a quickly accessible way to get help for a mental health condition. 

Pros & Cons of Online Therapy

Just like anything else, there are pros and cons to online therapy. Evaluating both sides can help you better determine if online therapy service is something you want to pursue. It’ll help you answer the question: is online therapy effective for my needs? 

“One unique benefit of online therapy that I see is that you can see your therapist from the comfort and convenience of your home. You don’t have to take time out of your very busy day to commute to a therapy session; instead, online therapy fits into your life. And it’s often much more affordable than in-person therapy”

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Pros 

Of the many pros that online therapy has to offer, perhaps one of the biggest is convenience. Online therapy means the distance to a therapist is no longer a factor in receiving care. Other pros include:

  • If privacy is a concern, many online sites allow you to use a nickname.
  • Even those in rural areas can have easier access to therapy.
  • Transportation issues are no longer a concern.
  • No commute or traffic concerns with a video session. 
  • Cost may be much cheaper than when compared to in-person treatment.
  • Convenient and flexible scheduling options, so you can book an online session when you need one.
  • No need to worry about others seeing you at the appointment.
  • If you’re embarrassed about what you’re seeking therapy for, there may be some comfort in not having to be face-to-face with a therapist.
  • Especially for those with social anxiety, online options can be extremely helpful.

“For people struggling with anxiety, online therapy can help us learn some crucial skills to both manage and decrease their anxiety symptoms. Imagine having a better handle on symptoms like rumination, or trouble sleeping? It can make a world of a difference.”

Talkspace therapist Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC.

Cons

Of course, there are drawbacks to most things, and online therapy is no different. For example, online therapy may not be suitable for those with mental health challenges like suicidal thoughts, self-harm practices, or psychosis. Other times that online counseling may not be as effective include:

  • Lack of body language and cues might make diagnoses difficult for some therapists.
  • Unfortunately, someone who’s not fully accredited to offer therapy might pose as a licensed therapist — which is one reason it’s so essential to use a trusted, reputable online site or provider. 
  • Technological issues can be problematic, including Internet issues, dropped calls, or frozen screens that can interrupt a video session.
  • Therapists who aren’t as tech-savvy may have issues conducting productive sessions. 
  • Some people may find it difficult to bond and connect with their therapist when meeting virtually.
  • Potential for sessions to be interrupted by children, pets, visitors, or other at-home distractions. 
  • May not be as engaging for younger children or adolescents. 
  • In the event of an extreme crisis, it may be more difficult for a therapist to intervene.

So, does online therapy work? At the end of the day, it really just depends on your needs, your goals, and your comfort zone. Online therapy can be an amazing way to comfortably confront your mental health challenges and work on yourself. For many people, it’s exactly what they’ve been looking for to become a happier, healthier version of themselves. 

Online therapy can help with some of the following conditions:

Mental health care is important and there are many options to finding a virtual therapist or counselor for the best treatment. 

How to Find an Online Therapist

If you think online therapy might be effective for you and you’re ready to get started, you should first look for a therapist who offers online appointments. 

Note that while we’ve been talking about online talk therapy, there are other nontraditional options available, too. Phone therapy, live chat, text therapy, and video chats are all potential ways you can seek mental health treatment. And as mentioned earlier, online platforms like Talkspace make finding a therapist easy.

You can also use a therapist directory to find someone who specializes in your specific area of need. Or, you can ask for a referral from a friend, family member, or even your family physician. It’s important to find a therapist you feel comfortable with in order to get the best results from your therapy. So take your time, and feel free to interview one (or more!) therapists before you decide on one to work with. 

Ready to find an online therapist? Reach out to Talkspace today. We’re here for you, and we look forward to connecting with you.

Sources:

  1. G. Andrews, A. Basu, P. Cuijpers, M.G. Craske, P. McEvoy, C.L. English, J.M. Newby. Computer therapy for the anxiety and depression disorders is effective, acceptable and practical health care: An updated meta-analysis. J Anxiety Disord. 2018;55:70-78. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0887618517304474?via%3Dihub. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  2. 2. Novotney A. A growing wave of online therapy. American Psychological Association. 2017;48(2):48. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/02/online-therapy. Accessed September 12, 2021.
  3. 3. Hull, T.D., Malgaroli, M., Connolly, P.S. et al. Two-way messaging therapy for depression and anxiety: longitudinal response trajectories. BMC Psychiatry 20, 297 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-020-02721-x

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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