How Effective Is Online Counseling For Depression?

By: Sarah Fader

Updated January 20, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Depression can be an incredibly difficult condition to experience. It can affect the way you feel, sleep, eat, think, interact, and work. Depression can lead to serious mental and physical health problems, which can often require hospitalization or the help of a mental health professional. There are a number of different forms of depression, all of which can produce different symptoms:

  • Persistent depressive disorder – Also known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder presents as a depressed mood that lasts for two years or more. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder can experienceperiods where symptoms are not as severe, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.
  • Postpartum depression – Postpartum depressionis a more intense version of the negative feelings or normal mood swings that many people experience after they have a baby. Adults with postpartum depression experience severe, debilitating depression during pregnancy or after delivery.Although many people are aware that new mothers can experience postpartum depression, it’s important to note that new fathers and new adoptive parents can develop postpartum depression, too.People living with postpartum depression can experience feelings of intense sadness, symptoms of anxiety, and fatigue, making it difficult for them to take care of themselves, or their child.
  • Psychotic depression – Psychotic depression is characterized by a psychotic disorder that   arises out of severe depression. This can includedelusions, hearing voices, or experiencing upsetting hallucinations that are not actually real. This condition can increase the likelihood of developing other harmful mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder.
  • Seasonal affective disorder –Often shorted to SAD, seasonal affective disorder is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months, sunlight is scarce, and people are often forced to stay indoors. Seasonal affective disorderusuallygoes away after the winter season.
  • Bipolar disorder - Though not technically a depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is included in this list is because of its tendency to cause extremely low moods in those experiencing it.

Luckily, there are a wide variety of treatment methods out there. The proliferation of technology has fostered rapid innovation in the mental health arena. Now, you can seek counseling for depression (or anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, trauma, etc.) through online platforms that provide an array of remotely accessed resources and counseling services. Therapy is more accessible than it has ever been for those seeking help with their mental health. 

You may be thinking, though, that online counseling for depression may seem almost too good to be true. Doesn't it seem logical that an in-person meeting would be more effective than typing words on a computer screen?

According to studies, perhaps not. A study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Health Science revealed that an online cognitive behavioral therapy program, in combination with internet support groups (and even by itself) was a more effective treatment for anxiety and depression than the traditional, in-personal model.

This may come as a surprise to people who have been raised to believe doctor visits are the most effective means of confronting mental illness. The research, however, suggests that eliminating the sources of stress involved with in-person therapy—such as transportation, anxiety about meeting people, high costs, or the social stigma of seeking therapy—canmake online therapy amoreeffective and accessible form of treatment.


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Online users no longer have to focus on peripherals. They simply apply the lessons and learn how to alter their behavior and thinking patterns to learn new coping mechanisms for anxiety. And because they are able to access useful resources outside of therapy sessions, they can reinforce important concepts and techniques.

In a New York Times blog, Pip Cuijpers, a professor of clinical psychology at the Free University in Amsterdam, even called online therapy equal with face-to-face therapy, at least for the most common mental disorders like depression and anxiety. As we’ll see later, this assertion is echoed by a number of studies examining the effects of online therapy on depression.

True, some complex disorders may require more intensive one-on-one appointments, such as schizophrenia or anti-social behaviors. The main reasons why the two approaches cannot be precisely compared are because online counselors cannot prescribe medication, make court statements, or make an official diagnosis according to the medical community. Complex personality disorders require more legal work.

However, in many cases, general anxiety and depression are workable online. One can learn lessons that are relatively simple, as well as approaches that can be tried at home.

How Does Online Counseling For Depression Work?


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Users who log into a website for online counseling for depression or anxiety will be able to virtually chat with licensed and credentialed therapists that are certified by their state's board to provide these services. Accreditation means a lot, especially in an internet age where unlicensed “experts” are everywhere. A qualified online mental health professional, however, can provide clinical-based answers.

Effective Online Depression Counseling Through BetterHelp

Research shows that online therapy can be a powerful tool for recovering from depression. In one studypublished in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the effects of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on depression and anxiety were examined. Treatment was a 12-week, app-based online CBT program with the goal of reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety within 9 months. Similar to many other online CBT programs, this modality utilized educational resources and counseling sessions to reinforce specific concepts. Researchers found that participants experienced reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety over time, leading them to conclude that online therapy can produce “sustained and clinically meaningful improvements.” Cognitive-behavioral therapy works by helping participants reframe negative thought processes that may be underlying unwanted behaviors or emotions, such as those related to depression.

With online therapy through BetterHelp, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with a therapist from the comfort of your home (or wherever you have an internet connection)—via live chat, video conference, voice call, or messaging. Also, you will have the ability to reach out to your licensed counselor outside of sessions, if you choose. If you need to go over an important topic, have a question about something, or simply want to chat, you can send your therapist a message and they will get back to you as soon as they are able. The qualified mental health professionals at BetterHelp can give you the tools to acknowledge your moods and understand how to regulate your emotions. Read below for counselor reviews, from those who have sought help for depression in the past. 

Counselor Reviews

“I put off finding a therapist for a long time. I dreaded my first conversation with Neil and all the awkward, clunky explanations I'd have to give about my depression and anxiety. All of the things that felt like dirty little secrets that caused me so much pain. But I was so pleasantly surprised by the way Neil accurately picked up on what I was saying and gave me more insight into how my brain was working. It made my issue feel so much less of a personal problem and more of a universal problem we could examine together. He always gives me a thoughtful response within a day or two any time I send a message. I actually think we've made more progress in between sessions just by being able to communicate things that are coming up in real time. Neil is intelligent and kind. I really appreciate his communication style and highly recommend him.”

“I have gone to several therapists on and off since I was 14, battling everything from anxiety, eating disorders, panic attacks, depression, and addiction. Honestly none of them has had the impact that Justin had on me in the few short weeks that I’ve been matched up with him. He’s made me feel like I can trust someone again and without judgment, I can tell his kindness is genuine. Using CBT treatment, I’m already seeing that I cope with a lot of issues in a more positive way or at least am more aware. I was days away from just giving up everything, but he truly shined a light in my life ... I’m not completely recovered but I know Im on the right path. I would highly recommend Justen as a therapist.”

Conclusion

If you or someone you know lives with depression and anxiety, don't hesitate to reach out to someone.Remember that help is always available, and you will always have an experienced and licensed therapist to talk to—someone who has answers and can provide more effective help than just a friend or a stranger in depression chat rooms. A licensed counselor can help you regain interest in those activities you used to enjoy, experience healthy relationships, and live an overall happier life. There's no risk to try it, but there could be a long-term benefit once therapy starts working.


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