Five Surprising Facts About Online Counseling

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

As the digital world becomes a more integrated part of many of our everyday lives, many services that were once only offered in person are now available virtually as well. Mental health counseling is one of these. Now, through online therapy services, qualified, licensed therapists can provide mental health services to treat a variety of conditions via phone, video, and/or online counseling chat.

According to Medical Daily, online counseling is a necessity in the modern age for at least one simple reason: Many people will not be able to reach mental health help in any other way. Statistically, only one-third of all people demonstrating symptoms of major mental disorders or high stress will seek mental health services. For one thing, with traditional therapy, traveling regularly to an office for therapy sessions may be difficult for people with a physical disability or those who live in a rural area, and the relatively higher costs of in-person sessions may be prohibitive for many.

The best online therapy services and provide flexibility and choice in meeting the needs of their clients. Many online therapy platforms have affordable online therapy options such as cognitive behavioral therapy, couples therapy, and group therapy.  Online therapy websites may also have a variety of specialists including addiction therapists, marriage and family therapists, and others.

iStock/Daisy-Daisy
Online therapy is convenient, affordable, and effective

Five facts about online therapy you may not have known

Whether you’ve been actively considering seeking virtual therapy or are new to the concept, taking in the following facts about it may help you understand a bit more about how it works and who it can help before choosing an online therapy platform.

1. Online sessions can be as effective as in-person sessions

The number of online counseling service studies that have been conducted around the effectiveness of online therapy with a licensed therapist has increased in recent years, especially since the pandemic when many people came to rely on this type of care. For instance, one major review of studies on the topic shows that in-person and online therapy were able to “produce equivalent overall effects” for conditions including social anxiety, panic disorder, depression, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, phobias, and others. Therapists can use many of their person techniques in an online environment. Online cognitive behavioral therapy, online addiction counseling, and online action commitment therapy are all techniques that a therapist may use virtually. With the exception of severe forms of certain mental illnesses that require inpatient care or a mental health emergency, a wide variety of mental health conditions can be effectively treated virtually.

2. Virtual therapy can be helpful for those experiencing stigma around mental health care

While the importance and normalcy of seeking mental health care has increased significantly in recent years, some stigma around it still exists. For those who fear the judgment of family or friends for meeting with a therapist, virtual therapy can offer a more discreet method of seeking care since it can be done from the comfort of one’s own home, office, or anywhere else an individual has a working device and an internet connection. 

Others may worry about potential judgment from their therapist or counselor, and online therapy may be able to ease this concern as well. First, qualified therapists or other mental health professionals—whether they work in person or virtually—are trained to offer a safe, nonjudgmental space where people can say their true feelings. In addition, one study found that online therapy users in particular were more likely to rate their connection with their online therapy provider as “personal”, which may correlate to better treatment outcomes. Another study on pairs who pursued virtual couples therapy via video found that they tended to feel less intimidated, less judged, and more in control over the session.

3. You can more easily try out multiple providers

For the most effective treatment, it’s important that you feel safe and comfortable saying your feelings with your counselor. Not every provider will be a perfect match for every client. You may meet with a few different mental health counselors or therapists before you find one who suits your needs and preferences and who you feel most comfortable with. Doing this with in-person sessions can be difficult as it may take months to arrange multiple appointments with different offices and travel to each one. It can be much easier when done virtually with an online counseling platform. The best online therapy for you may not be the same as for another person, this is why it may be beneficial to search online rather than in person. 

Consider the process with a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp. When you sign up, you’ll be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire about your needs and preferences, such as why you’re seeking mental healthcare and what you’d prefer your therapist to have experience with in—like LGBTQIA+ issues, trauma, ADHD, parenting issues, depression, etc. You’ll then be matched with a licensed provider accordingly in a matter of days. If you don’t feel like they’re a good fit, you can restart the quick process and get matched with different online therapy providers. You can meet with both within a brief time period, all from the comfort of home, which means your timeline for finding a therapist who works for you can be shorter than it might be otherwise. This is especially helpful for families trying out different family therapists, it is important that each family member feels comfortable with the therapist, which may mean trying a few out first.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

4. Online counseling can take different formats

Some people may feel hesitant to engage in online therapy because they’re worried that video calls with a counselor may feel awkward. Or others might be concerned that they won’t be able to personally connect with their provider adequately if sessions are only by phone. However, the best online therapy platforms and many online counseling chat services offer a variety of formats so you can choose the one that’s best for you. With BetterHelp, for example, you can meet with your therapist via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging.

5. Virtually anyone can seek online counseling

One common misconception about counseling in general is that a person needs to have a diagnosable mental health disorder to seek therapy. In reality, almost anyone can seek and potentially benefit from counseling, whether online or in person. In fact, many people use it as a maintenance tool to help keep their mental health and/or relationships on track. Others may use it to prevent major problems from occurring rather than only seeking help for them once they arise. Of course, many also use it to address symptoms of a mental health condition. Therapists and clinical social cannot prescribe medication or determine a medication management plan for patients, however, they can refer clients to doctors or psychiatrists who are able to write prescriptions if needed. 

It’s also important to note that mental healthcare is available for both teens and adults, because both age groups may experience mental health challenges. Online counseling services like TeenCounseling provide care to those between the ages of 13 and 19, while virtual therapy platforms like BetterHelp offer services to adults. Additionally, you do not need to have insurance to seek mental health care virtually. Platforms like those mentioned here do not accept insurance and charge rates that are comparable to many health insurance co-pays.

Rawpixel

Starting your counseling journey

After learning more about online counseling, you may be ready to begin your own therapeutic journey. Whether you believe you’re exhibiting symptoms of a mental health condition or you simply feel you could benefit from the nonjudgmental listening ear of a therapist, you deserve to seek the support you may need. If you’re interested in meeting with someone in person, you might search for providers in your local area. Or, if you’re interested in the relative reachability and affordability of virtual therapy, an online platform like BetterHelp is one option to consider.

Takeaway

People in many different situations and circumstances can benefit from seeking mental healthcare. For those who would like to have this type of care from the comfort of home, online counseling may be an option to consider.

Receive evidence-based counseling
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started