How Effective Is Online Counseling For Depression?

Updated November 28, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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 like self-isolating, increased risk of illness, and substance use, which can require the help of a mental health professional. 

Types Of Depression

Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is a common type of this condition, but there are a number of different forms of depression, all of which can produce different symptoms:

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  • 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 experience periods where symptoms are not as severe, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder. 

  • Postpartum Depression – Postpartum depression is a more intense version of the negative feelings or natural 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, also known as depressive psychosis, is characterized by severe depression with symptoms of psychosis. This can include delusions, hearing voices, or experiencing upsetting hallucinations that are not actually real. This condition can increase the likelihood of developing other mental illnesses, such as anxiety.

  • Seasonal Affective Disorder –Often shortened to SAD, seasonal affective disorder is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months when sunlight is scarce, and people typically spend more time indoors. Seasonal affective disorder usually goes away after the winter season, though it can occur comorbidly with other depressive disorders.

  • Bipolar Disorder - Though not technically a depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is included in this list because of its tendency to cause extremely low moods (depression) in those experiencing it.

Research Behind Online Therapy And Depression

Luckily, there are a wide variety of treatment methods out there for mental healthcare for conditions like a clinical depression diagnosis, anxiety, or substance use. The proliferation of technology has fostered rapid innovation in the mental health arena. Now, you can seek counseling for depression (or other mental health conditions like anxiety, substance use, addiction, trauma, and so on) through online platforms that provide an array of remotely accessed resources and therapy services to work through mental health symptoms and their underlying causes.

Some postulate that meeting a therapist in-person is more effective than doing so through a computer or phone. According to studies, however, 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 depressive symptoms than the traditional, in-personal model.

This may come as a surprise to people who believe doctor visits are the most effective means of confronting mental illness. The research, though, 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—can make online help with depression a more effective form of treatment. 

A treatment plan of online sessions through an online course with professional medical advice from a licensed therapist has been shown to be effective through clinical psychology research for many common issues like anxiety, depression, and at times, substance use. One 2014 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that those utilizing online treatment for substance use disorders were nearly twice as likely to be successfully abstinent from substance misuse by the end of treatment compared to the study group who only utilized a “treatment-as-usual” (in-person treatment) approach.

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. It can also help with issues ranging from marital problems to family issues to substance misuse.

When Online Therapy May Not Help

Some complex disorders may require more intensive one-on-one appointments, such as schizophrenia or anti-social personality disorder. These disorders can make therapy in general more challenging, and successful treatment and management of the client’s symptoms depends particularly heavily on the degree of trust between therapist and client. Some research suggests that this level of trust, known as the therapeutic alliance, can be stronger with in-person therapy compared to online therapy, particularly for disorders like schizophrenia that often involve distrust of others.

Additionally, sometimes people with substance use disorder may need an inpatient stay in a rehabilitation or detox facility. However, individual therapy can still be a good place to start before, or in addition to, moving on to someone who specializes in medication management or substance rehabilitation.

Other issues such as crisis counseling for suicidal ideation is also available elsewhere. If you or someone you know are struggling with suicidal ideation or another crisis, reach out to the National Lifeline at 988.

However, in many cases, general and moderate depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness are as workable through an online platform as they are via in-person clinical settings. 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 video chat with licensed and credentialed therapists who are certified by their state's board to provide these services. Accreditation and licensing, as well as making these accreditations and licenses visible to clients via the therapist’s website or personal page, are particularly important in an internet age where unlicensed “experts” are everywhere. 

A qualified online mental health professional, however, can provide clinical-based perspectives, tools, and answers. Professional therapists will be able to put forth a personalized treatment plan through therapy sessions. Whether you seek emotional support for relationship therapy from mental health experts or parenting guidance with teen counseling, healthcare professionals in virtual therapy are available for professional help using clinically proven cognitive and behavioral techniques. Online therapy can provide you with help directly from a therapist, counselor, or psychologist, and it can also provide a therapist-free platform in which you can go through online prompts and exercises to continue helping yourself outside of sessions.

Online counseling can be particularly helpful and accessible to those with depression who are struggling to go about daily life and who may otherwise have a difficult time getting to in-person therapy sessions. Being able to have sessions remotely via video or phone can be a real boon to those with mental health conditions and concerns without the presence of psychosis. As mentioned previously, more serious mental health issues, such as those that involve psychosis, may be better treated in an in-person setting.

Effective Online Depression Counseling Through BetterHelp

In one study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the effects of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) on depression and anxiety through video chat 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 for treating depression by helping participants reframe negative thought processes that may be underlying unwanted behaviors or emotions, such as those related to depression. With the mental health services of online counseling, depression symptoms can be alleviated. BetterHelp can also help with other issues like coping strategies, pride counseling, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and much more.

With online therapy services 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 communication methods including live chat, video chat, phone call, or unlimited messaging. Through online therapy for depression and its symptoms, 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. 

Read below for reviews of licensed therapists, from those who have sought help through online therapy for depression and other mental health care issues 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.”

Takeaway

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 with experience and who can provide effective help when and where you need it. A licensed online counselor can help you regain interest in those activities that you used to enjoy, experience healthy relationships, and live an overall happier life. 

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