Does Online Therapy Work? Tips to make the most out of your virtual therapy experience
As we continue to live in a world that remains governed by the Coronavirus pandemic, the idea of online therapy is becoming more apparent. Online therapy falls under the “telehealth” umbrella of remote therapy (via telephone or secured video platforms) that is exploding into modern life as an alternative method of delivery for therapy services.
One of the biggest concerns regarding online or telehealth therapy is that it may be more difficult to build rapport and a trusting relationship with your therapist if you are not in-person. A common misconception is that this level of safety, security, and comfort cannot be built remotely. However, telehealth options, such as online therapy via a secured video platforms are still able to showcase tone of voice, some body language and non-verbal behavioural cues, as well as overall demeanour. All of these components are capable of creating a space for connection and may help the therapist better understand a client.
Feeling comfortable and connected with your therapist is a HUGE component of therapy as it can often be difficult to open up to someone if one of those components are missing. Therefore, it can still be important to reach out to a number of therapists to have different conversations to see which individual may seem like the best fit for you and the type of support you need.
Pros and Cons of Online Therapy
When contemplating the therapeutic process and particularly what that looks like in the new virtual landscape, it can be important to consider the pros and cons of online therapy.
Online therapy offers some advantages that traditional in-person therapy lacks, which include:
- Convenience of accessing therapy from anywhere (work, home, vehicle, etc.)
- Flexibility and ease of scheduling
- Feeling more comfortable in a familiar setting, enhancing vulnerability and disclosure
- Additional time back in your day that is not spent on commuting to and from your therapy appointment
- Individuals in rural areas, with chronic illness, or those with transportation or mobility concerns may be able to access services that were previously unavailable
- Eliminates any fear or concern for potentially running into a familiar face in the waiting room of a therapy office
Additionally, it is important to note that in some cases individuals struggling with symptoms of anxiety, or diagnosed anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia or social anxiety, may be more likely to reach out to an online therapist. While these are just some of the main benefits online therapy can offer, it is valuable to assess what the drawbacks are to ensure you can make an informed decision on if online therapy is an option for you.
Here are some potential disadvantages of online therapy to consider:
- Potential for therapist to miss out on some body language cues that are not visible in the frame of online video
- Technological issues can occur and calls may be dropped, video could be frozen temporarily, or difficulties logging into the particular secure platform can be troublesome
- Online therapy isn’t suitable for individuals in crisis and experiencing intense thoughts of suicide with urges to act on them, as it can be difficult for therapist to intervene appropriately based on the needs of the client
- Some individuals may truly feel a lack of connection with a therapist and find they are more effective working in-person
- Difficulty in attending if you don’t have access to a safe, secure, and confidential space to meet with your therapist virtually for sessions
Tips for Enhancing your Online Therapy Experience
Currently, it seems that the number of therapists offering in-person services is extremely scarce, especially in more rural geographic locations. If this is the case, online therapy and telehealth options may be the only option for your therapeutic needs. This can be a difficult transition for those accustomed to in-person interactions, but you may also discover that online therapy can be just as effective in providing you with the support needed to work through some of you concerns and obstacles holding you back.
Here are some tips so that you can make the most out of your online or telehealth experience:
- Decide the type of online therapy that works best for you – telehealth therapy services typically include telephone and video but can also encompass text messages and email options for communicating with your therapist.
- Be flexible with your format of therapy – explore and test in the first few sessions which telehealth options work for you and which ones do not. It’s ok to have an open discussion with your therapist about you preferences.
- Prepare for your session ahead of time – Eliminate distractions by carving out time in your schedule and selecting a safe space for therapy that will encourage you to feel comfortable and focused during session.
- Be patient with the process – it’s ok to experience some awkwardness at first. Remember you’re meeting a stranger and realistically that awkwardness would also appear in-person until you start to develop an alliance with your therapist.
- Try and embrace the perks of online therapy – i.e. do you have a pet that you want to accompany you into session? Baby sitter cancelled last minute? Go ahead bring your baby or you furry friends to session – this will help your therapist see your normal forms of interaction and may be able to better connect with you.
- Practice new skills and take accountability for your role in the process– if you’re concerned you’re therapist isn’t ‘reading’ you right or there seems to be a disconnect, then practice naming your emotions and needs more overtly. This will help them better understand you and also a great way for you to tune into your inner self.
- Don’t be afraid to give your therapist feedback – we love it! Remember the transition to online therapy is new for some therapists as well, so take some time to tell them what is working and what is not in session. This way they can plan ahead and adjust for the next session to better meet your needs.
Evidently, online therapy, like traditional in-person therapy has its limitations and benefits. You may still be curious if it is better or worse than face-to-face therapy, however the answer to that question depends on our individual perceptions. Personally, I have found it to be just as effective as in-person sessions, given the individual(s) on the therapeutic journey with me is willing to collaborate and engage in discussion by giving online therapy a try.
If you are feeling curious about attending online therapy or want to learn more about what it entails, then I invite you to give it a try for yourself and book a free 15-minute consultation.