COVID has rearranged everything. Where we once had to get dressed and travel to work, now we roll over and open our laptops. Where we used to enjoy bustling restaurants packed diners, now we order in. And of course, therapy has changed, too. Online sessions with a therapist have become suddenly the norm for many New Yorkers and people all over the country. But is online therapy effective?
Well … why wouldn’t online therapy be effective?
Change always bring about a certain amount of hesitancy. If something was working before, changing it might break what wasn’t broken. The purpose and process of therapy is no different.
For those who worry about the effectiveness of virtual therapy appointments, the concern lies in the technological disconnect between the therapist and the patient. Without being in the same room as the patient, can therapists really do their jobs?
Science says yes.
Research supports the claim that online therapy is effective just as effective as in-person therapy for most patients.
- This study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that internet-based therapy is equally as effective as in-person therapy when treating depression.
- This study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders showed that online therapy is just as effective as face-to-face therapy in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and major depression.
The benefits of online therapy
COVID may have forced many people to switch to online therapy, but the changes are likely to stick long-term because of the many benefits of online therapy. Many people have found the switch to online therapy a godsend because it solves so many of the problems that prevented certain people from getting therapy in the first place. Here are just some of the benefits of seeing a therapist via computer rather than face-to-face.
- Scheduling is infinitely easier – Without worrying about travel time, getting a sitter, or navigating traffic, it’s tremendously less stressful and time consuming to get mental health care. Our hope is that this new level of convenience encourages people who have been putting their mental health on the back burner to finally take the leap and get the care they need.
- Online therapy opens up therapy options to underserved populations – For people who are homebound, lack transportation, or live in rural areas where therapy is not available, online therapy brings mental health care right into their homes.
- Improved communication – The bad side of social media is the good side of online therapy – oversharing. Participating in therapy sessions in the comfort of their own homes gives patients a type of “home field advantage.” This can boost their comfort and confidence during sessions, leading to more open, honest sharing of information.
- More appointments kept – When barriers to care like scheduling, transportation, and child care are removed, patients are more likely to make and keep their appointments for therapy.
- Help for social anxiety patients – For patients with social anxiety, agoraphobia, or other conditions that may prevent them from leaving the house, not having to physically go into an office may improve their participation in therapy.
Potential drawbacks of online therapy sessions
Of course, with all these benefits come drawbacks, as well. Online therapy is not for everyone, and though it may make therapy easier for some clients, it could make finding true relief more difficult for others.
- Disreputable online therapy sites – There has been a boom of online therapy websites that offer “mental health care” that can be considered dubious at best. The potential damage that unlicensed and untrained therapists can do cannot be overstated.
- At-risk patients – For people who are suicidal or experiencing psychosis, not having a person physically present to assist them could lead to dangerous or even deadly consequences.
- Poor patient-therapist relationship – Some online therapy sites allow the user to remain anonymous. That could be seen as a benefit to people who are struggling to overcome the stigma of attending therapy, but establishing a real relationship with a therapist is key to long-term progress. Without a name, how close can the therapist and the patient really become?
- Technical issues – A bad internet connection that prevents clear communication disrupts the easy flow of information from patient to therapist and vice versa.
- Privacy – If you live with other people, it can be difficult to find a location with both a good internet connection and the privacy you need for your therapy session. Even scheduling your online therapy sessions at a time when you don’t expect anyone else to be home can backfire when scheduling snafus on their end interrupt your therapy time.
Does my health insurance cover online therapy?
You’ll have to check with your health insurance provider to be sure, but many insurance companies do cover virtual mental health appointments. Some questions you’ll want to ask when you call your insurance company include:
- Does my insurance cover mental health care?
- Are virtual or online therapy sessions covered?
- If I choose an online therapist out of state, am I still covered?
- How many sessions per year or month will my insurance pay for?
How to find an online therapist
Many people start their search for an online therapist with Google but beware. With the multitude of unrepeatable online therapy sites out there, it can be easy to fall prey to a company that wants to take your money but will only provide, at best, mediocre mental health care.
Instead of working with a random therapy website, we suggest working with a traditional, licensed, in-person therapist or psychiatrist that also does virtual therapy sessions. Some therapists offer phone visits, while others offer video appointments via an online meeting software like Zoom.
Our office in New York City offers online therapy sessions seven days a week, including evenings, to make it easy to get the mental health care you need on your schedule. Schedule your first therapy appointment here, or give us a call at (646) 751-7908.