Electronic therapy — where clients and therapists interact through online means that provide chat rooms, video calls, and telephone calls, are increasingly popular — is here to stay. Many of the therapists who work in the online environment also work in traditional, in-person settings. Online therapy offers a number of advantages traditional therapy struggles to match through using technology in counseling.
So, let's take a closer look at the pros and cons of online therapy or e-counseling in this piece.
There are many pros of e-counseling for both the patients and the counselor. Some pros and cons:
Nowadays it seems like everyone is just too busy to do anything. With online therapy, you do not have to worry about setting appointments to work around your schedule or taking time off work. You can literally email or text your counselor anytime of the day, any day of the week. Depending on the particular service you select, your therapist will typically respond within a day. You can also schedule appointments to call, live text or chat, or video chat with your therapist on many e-counseling services available. You can schedule appointments for your lunch break, weekends, or other convenience times that are readily available as therapists in the online setting tend to be more flexible as they work from home.
Accessible to Everyone
People who live in rural areas or those who have difficulties getting around do not have to worry about the long trek to the therapist's office if they use electronic counseling. Until now, those who live far away with no public transportation were unable to get counseling unless they found a way to get to their therapist's office. Those without transportation just had no way to get there and went without therapy.
With online therapy, you can use any kind of electronic device like a computer, laptop, tablet, or even a smart phone, to talk or text your therapist from the comfort of your own home. Many of the online therapy websites offer several options such as emailing, instant messaging, chat rooms, and teleconferencing. Now, even those with physical limitations can talk to their therapist when they need to.
Much More Affordable
E-counseling is only a fraction of the cost of traditional face-to-face therapy. Because your counselor does not have to pay for an office, utility bills, and the cost of transportation, your costs for therapy are lower as well. The average cost of e-counseling is $20 to $50 per week rather than the average of $100-$250 per session for traditional in-person therapy. While a traditionally minded counselor will need to rent office space in a discreet and not overly run-down building, one who operates online can potentially work from home. Not only that, but they may deal with pending text messages whenever some time is available, rather than having to wait until his patient is physically present.
This can translate into cost savings, while also freeing up more time and resources for patients who need it, rather than assuming every person requires exactly one hour per week of direct-therapist time.
Larger Skill Pool
Few mental conditions exist in a vacuum; a surface phenomenon such as addiction may, in fact, be deeply rooted in childhood trauma or self-esteem issues. In a traditional setting, a therapist may refer a patient to another counselor who's better equipped to help the patient, but a number of complex, interlocking problems can easily strain anyone's specialization.
With e-counseling, experts in any field you can think of may all work under the same umbrella organization, which essentially acts as a referral and auditing service for mental health professionals. With the patient's permission, two or more may easily collaborate in approaching a solution, or the patient may himself choose to see a counselor with a particular skill set.
Few psychologists will allow their private phone number to circulate generally, and for good reason. Online mental health services, however, can offer therapy at anytime, anywhere an internet connection is possible.
Unless an online appointment has been scheduled or the therapist happens to be available, communication between patient and counselor generally takes place in written form. There are handicaps as well as advantages to this: for one, neither the patient nor the therapists feels under any obligation to fill an hour with talk that may verge on the irrelevant; for another, the patient has a chance to think about and analyze what they wish to express.
In addition, many people who would otherwise feel hesitant about contacting a therapist will embrace the anonymity an online relationship offers. Whether due to the perceived stigma surrounding mental illness, or the feelings of shame and fear associated with events like sexual abuse or addiction to illegal drugs, this level of discretion can afford many potential patients the freedom to pursue help.
Of course, everything has its bad points as well. There are some bugs to be worked out, and some people just do not meet the criteria. For example, if you are actively suicidal, are in active crisis, or in psychosis, counseling via the internet isn't the best option for you.
May Not Be Covered by Insurance
Unfortunately, some insurance companies still do not cover online therapy of any kind. However, as the popularity of e-counseling continues to rise, more and more insurers are realizing that it benefits them as much as it benefits you. All insurance companies are different, and some do not have mental health coverage at all. With time, the majority of large healthcare companies are expected to provide some type of coverage for e-counseling.
Risk of Confidentiality
With all of the questions about privacy and hackers online, there is always the risk of confidentiality. It is ultimately up to you to make sure your communications are safe. That means not using public internet services such as at a coffee shop, motel, or library. If you are communicating with your therapist online through your phone or tablet using email, instant messaging, or another internet communication, you have to be careful that you are on a private internet service. The good news is that reputable, licensed therapists use secure technology, and will take precautions to protect what you share through the website or therapy service they use with you.
Lack of Nonverbal Communication
This is a disadvantage in some cases because the counselor or therapist cannot see your body language as he or she could if you were in a traditional face-to-face therapy session. However, if you use video chat, you will be able to see each other and that will eliminate that problem.
Counseling can help you get to the root of what brought you to counseling in the first place. If you’re having relationship issues, experiencing anxiety and depression, being bullied or dealing with some other issue that you can’t quite manage on your own, counseling is a safe place to talk about it. A licensed mental health professional who is trained and has the experience in what you’re dealing with can help you better manage your issue or even resolve it. In a way, one can think of counseling as a short cut to feeling better. It’s important to keep in mind that although this might be a short cut, it requires commitment, patience and determination, especially when dealing with difficult aspects of whatever is troubling you.
E-counseling can be more affordable, even for those who don’t have health care insurance. You can meet with your counselor at a time that fits into your schedule and wherever you feel most comfortable. Some people like to have counseling sessions in their homes, while others feel more comfortable having counseling in their car (parked, of course).
With online counseling, you can meet your therapist by video, text messaging, chat or phone in real time or asynchronously via text messaging or emailing. You can choose how you want your therapy delivered that is most comfortable and convenient for you. You also are not restricted to seeing a local therapist, which in some areas, therapists might be scarce.
Whereas traditional counseling requires traveling to a therapist’s office, sitting in an office and discussing sensitive issues, people who use telehealth can have therapy from the privacy of their own homes or wherever they feel is most private. They don’t have to factor in drive time to and from a therapist’s office or running into someone they know while waiting to see the therapist.
In addition, chatting, text messaging and emailing are ways to discuss sensitive issues that might otherwise feel shameful or embarrassing if sitting across from someone.
As well as considering benefits, cons of online therapy also exist. One con is needing a strong internet connection while another con is using technology to access therapy.
You'll have a variety of ways to connect in a live session with your therapist, including audio (phone)or video. Or, you can use messaging or speak with your therapist in a secure private chat room. You can even communicate with your therapist via email.
These are more flexible options for scheduling, so you can fit therapy into your busy schedule. Online therapy is also cost effective. In sum, it's both affordable and convenient.
You can receive mental health care and treatment through the internet, instead of visiting a counseling office space. It has been gaining in popularity in recent years because of its affordability and easy access. Whether you live in a rural area or are more comfortable sorting through life's many challenges from your home, telehealth gives you the ability and flexibility to address mental health challenges from wherever you are.
By using a variety of methods (ex. video, text messaging, and chat) to receive counseling, people can feel more comfortable treating their mental health needs, especially if they have a busy schedule or feel embarrassed about seeking help for their mental health needs.
There is no one best online therapy. Do your research to see what a company offers. For example, do they offer video as well as secure chat rooms? Are they HIPAA compliant? Are all the therapists and counselors licensed? Are there different plans or a flat monthly rate? Do they accept health insurance? Do they specialize in one type of therapy, such as marriage counseling? Or, do they offer a variety of counseling like counseling for anxiety disorders or sleep disorders?
Doing a good, old fashioned pros and cons list of five companies will help you to narrow down your counseling options and then finally settle on one that best suits your needs.
Usually you’ll first fill out a questionnaire. Based on your answers, you’ll be matched with a therapist. Then you’ll have a consultation — a meeting so you and your therapist can get to know each other better. This is where you’ll get a feel for the therapist to see if they’re a good fit for you and vice versa. You can ask the therapist questions, such as their education, expertise, and training. The therapist, likewise, will ask you questions. For example, why you’re seeking therapy and what your therapy goals are. After the initial consultation, you’ll have meetings with your therapist based on how you want to go about receiving counseling online (ex. audio, video, or online chat). Over time, you’ll develop a therapeutic relationship with your therapist – one in which you’ll feel safe and supported and not judged.
If your therapist isn’t working out for you — sometimes this happens — you can switch to another. It’s best, though, to give yourself 3-5 sessions with a therapist before you determine you make a change.
Generally, online counseling is secure. Your information is kept confidential by your therapist, and encryption is used for financial transactions. The mental health professionals are licensed, and all therapists on BetterHelp are required to be HIPAA compliant. Always do your research, though. Check with the platform to make sure the site is secure before registering for therapy or making a financial transaction. The company should make ethical and legal practices a priority.