Benefits Of Online Therapy Services: Pros And Cons

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There comes a time in nearly everyone’s life when they just need someone to talk to, and with the convenience of online counseling services, getting the mental health support and guidance you need has never been easier. Sometimes, this can be a trusted friend, family, or even co-worker, but in some situations, only a qualified professional, like a therapist, will do.

When seeking mental health treatment, you might consider the potential benefits of virtual therapy—be it with an online psychiatrist or an online therapist.. Online therapy offers mental health services without the physical barriers of a traditional therapy setting. A licensed therapist can typically offer equally effective therapy sessions virtually, which may eliminate the need to seek traditional in-person therapy. From eating disorders to body language, virtual therapy provides help for mental health concerns without the need to wait in a therapist's waiting room.

Online therapy is an effective way to talk through your problems with a counselor and get valuable guidance and feedback from someone ready to listen without judgment. Services such as online CBT can give people the tools they need to understand and manage their mental health. If you're considering this, it would be good to know the benefits of online therapy to determine if it could be a productive step for you.

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Online counseling has a proven track record of helping people

The benefits of online therapy 

Studies show that therapy, in general, is effective and has many benefits. Some of the benefits of therapy include helping you identify the things that are causing distress, understand yourself better, and achieve your goals.

While in-person counseling is an option for many people, some of the benefits of online therapy that you might consider before deciding which type of therapy is right for you include:

No traveling

One of the biggest virtual therapy benefits is that you can get an appointment with a qualified professional from the comfort of your own home or anywhere with an internet connection. Also, while you may not find free online therapy with a licensed professional, online therapy tends to be more affordable than in-person therapy. This may be due to the fact that the therapist often doesn’t have to rent an office, and there are no costs related to commuting to a therapy practice.

Starting therapy can be challenging, especially for those with a physical limitations or those living in rural areas. Whether the closest therapist is hours away or all of the counselors in your area have long waiting lists, it can be challenging to get an appointment. With a large pool of counselors available online, you don’t have to worry as much about waiting lists or limited appointment times to get mental health care. 

Personal space at home

Virtual therapists follow the same rules as office-based therapists, but the feeling of being behind a screen and not in the same room can allow people to open up more quickly about sensitive topics.

More available

Virtual therapy makes connecting with a counselor easier for people who need help but may not seek it out if there are too many obstacles in the way. People with mental health disorders such as social anxiety disorder, depression, mood disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder might have difficulty motivating themselves to find a therapist, schedule an appointment, and then travel to the office for the first meeting and every subsequent meeting after that. 

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When online therapy is appropriate

Virtual therapy can treat common mental health disorders. Online therapy is an effective and appropriate treatment for many common mental health problems like depression and anxiety. However, it may not be the most effective choice for more complicated psychiatric illnesses with complex symptoms or for people having suicidal thoughts. These situations typically require real-world interactions with a therapist and even a doctor who can prescribe medication or recommend hospitalization. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. You can reach out anytime, day or night

To give yourself more options than in-person therapy offers

In addition to having more options for counselors and appointment times, online counseling platforms allow you to choose how you interact with your therapist, either through live counseling or asynchronous counseling. Live counseling is when you meet with a therapist via video-based teleconferencing or over the telephone. You and your therapist are both present, responding to each other in the moment, getting you close and personalized treatment from the comfort of your home. Asynchronous online counseling is when you exchange messages with your therapist. You send a message, and your therapist responds when they log back into the platform. Depending on their availability, your therapist might respond to messages daily or multiple times a day.

The downsides to online therapy

While online therapy is an effective and viable option for many people, there are certain drawbacks to consider, and some people may still be skeptical about online therapy. While many people find online therapy effective, there are just a few reasons online sessions may not be right for you:

Insurance might not cover you

Your insurance company might not cover it. Paying for online therapy out-of-pocket can add up quickly, so you might want to ask about your specific insurance coverage for therapy and then ask if your online therapist accepts your plan. 

Out-of-state providers

Some states don’t allow for out-of-state providers. In many states, your online therapist must be licensed in your home state for them to deliver treatment. 

Unreliable technology

Unreliable technology could be an issue. Because online therapy relies on the internet and the reliability of multiple devices, many things might not always work as they should. If your internet goes down or your laptop runs out of battery, your therapy session will be interrupted. 

Rapid response

Online mental health professionals cannot always respond quickly in crisis situations. If you are in immediate danger or having suicidal thoughts, you can contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 for 24/7 support. You can also contact local emergency services, but the 988 lifeline may be able to assist you more quickly.

Complex treatment limits

While online therapy may be able to treat mild to moderate depression, in-person therapy may be better for treating severe and complex psychiatric illnesses that may require medication or hospitalization. In these cases, a psychiatrist can evaluate a person’s physical health and medical history before deciding on the best treatment plan.

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Online counseling has a proven track record of helping people

Benefits of online therapy

If online therapy sounds like it could be a viable option for your mental well being, BetterHelp could provide an effective online therapy platform to get started. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that lets you connect with a therapist according to your availability. Even those with busy schedules can find care through e-counseling. You can choose to talk over a phone call, video chat, or in-app messaging feature. You won’t have to worry about driving long distances and can find mental health care from the comforts of home. Through BetterHelp, you have the opportunity to meet with many licensed therapists so that you can find the right online therapist for your needs.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Online counseling service studies that ask the question "Are online therapy sites effective?" have shown that online therapy is effective, too. In fact, one review of 17 studies found that virtual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might be more effective at treating depression than in-person therapy. CBT is a therapeutic approach that attempts to change an individual’s negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive ways of thinking. It can treat anxiety disorders, depression, addictions, and more. 

Reviews of BetterHelp online therapy 

“I’ve been meeting with Roberta for a few months now and have had a consistently great experience with her. She’s open and kind, always listening and responding with heart. Despite having initial difficulty finding a counselor on the site, Roberta has made me feel positive about the whole online therapy experience (both regain and BetterHelp) and I would readily recommend it (and Roberta specifically) to any of my friends.”

“I started my journey with Donna not knowing what it is that I needed help with or what to really expect. I was in pain, that is all I knew for certain, and I threw everything at her. That was new for me. I have had face to face counseling experiences before with two other very kind professionals and with none of them I talked as much during the first sessions as I did with Donna.  It felt super safe when talking with Donna. It is like her aura emits safety which penetrates the skepticism one might have with online counseling (it did for me).  Apart from feeling safe, her great listening and non-judgement skills kept me staying with Donna. I did think a lot about changing counselors once because I wasn’t sure whether Donna could understand or help me with problems I was facing in regard to high sensitivities (HSP). However, my gut kept me away from it because of the three traits mentioned before. Till now, I have always wanted to get better very quickly (max. 1 month to get better and even that is too long), but with Donna I managed to learn with my heart slowly to let myself take time with the process of getting better. One more thing which I found amazing because I was not expecting that all, is Donna’s ability to shed light on new perspectives on my deep, philosophical/complex writings. Sometimes just a short message from her on my writing makes me something new or helps me gets closer to a solution within me.”

Takeaway

As you look for a mental health care provider, it may be helpful to consider participating in online therapy. As you can see, there are many benefits to receiving care online versus in person. Whether you have limited in-person counselors or you feel more comfortable reaching out from the comfort of your home, online mental health counseling or therapy can be an effective way to connect with a therapist who can give you help and support as you work toward meeting your therapy goals.

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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.
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