Online Therapy For Depression: Benefits

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Depression can be a challenging condition to experience without treatment and the support of a qualified healthcare provider. The condition can affect your daily life in many ways, including how you feel, sleep, eat, think, interact, and work. Depression can lead to serious mental and physical health problems like self-isolation, increased risk of illness, and substance use, which can require the help of a doctor or mental health professional. Continue reading to learn more about the types of depression, research supporting online therapy as a treatment approach for mitigating the symptoms of depression, and where to find convenient and affordable options for online therapy.

Types of depression and their symptoms

There are several different forms of depression, all of which can produce different physical and mental health symptoms:

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Could you be facing difficult situations that cause depression?

  • Persistent depressive disorder: Also known as dysthymia, persistent depressive disorder presents as a depressed mood that lasts for two years or more, though the person can experience periods where symptoms are not as severe.
  • Postpartum depression: Adults with postpartum depression experience severe, debilitating depression during pregnancy or after delivery. Although many people know people who have birth can experience postpartum depression, it’s important to note that any new parent, even adoptive parents and those who did not give birth, 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 children. 
  • 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 real. This condition can increase the likelihood of developing other mental illnesses like 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 it tends to cause extremely low moods (depression) in those experiencing it.

Online therapy for depression

Therapy can be an effective treatment method for conditions like clinical depression, 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 through online platforms. These platforms provide an array of remotely acquired resources and therapy services to work through mental health symptoms and their underlying causes. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy tends to be a commonly used therapy for depression treatment, and it’s generally just as effective when administered through online services as it is in person. Cognitive behavioral therapy normally focuses on addressing negative thought patterns to then impact emotions and behaviors, ultimately improving mental health.

The research 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 for depression a more effective form of treatment. It can be intimidating to attend therapy in-person, but going to online therapy sessions from the comfort of home can make mental health services more convenient.

Another study examined the effectiveness of online therapy for adult depression by analyzing details from over 300 patients. It concluded that patients experienced significantly reduced depression after three months of therapy delivered via video, text, and chat.

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When online therapy may not be the answer for you

Some complex disorders may require more intensive one-on-one appointments with licensed therapists, such as schizophrenia or antisocial personality disorder. These disorders can make therapy, in general, more challenging, and successful treatment and management of the client’s symptoms depend 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 than online therapy, particularly for disorders like schizophrenia that often involve distrust of others.

Additionally, sometimes people living with substance use disorder may need an inpatient stay in a rehabilitation or detox facility to manage the withdrawal from drugs or alcohol. This can be a crucial part of mental health care in some cases. However, individual therapy can still be an excellent 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, are available elsewhere. In many cases, a local information service line or other local resources can provide information that may help you get the support that you need. 

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Support is available 24/7.

However, in many cases, general and moderate depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness are as treatable through an online platform as they are via in-person clinical settings. An online therapist can provide lessons and approaches to try at home, especially with cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Could you be facing difficult situations that cause depression?

How does online counseling for depression work?

Users who log into a website for online counseling for depression or anxiety can chat through text messaging or have a video chat with licensed and credentialed therapists certified by their state's board to provide these services. Accreditation and licensing and making these accreditations and licenses visible to clients via the therapist’s website or personal page are critical in an internet age where unlicensed “experts” are everywhere.

A qualified online mental health professional can provide clinical-based perspectives, tools, and support through their mental health services. Professional therapists can 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 help directly from a therapist, counselor, or psychologist. It can also provide a therapist-free platform where you can go through online prompts and exercises to continue helping yourself outside sessions.

Online counseling can be particularly helpful for people with depression experiencing challenges with daily life and who may have difficulty getting to in-person therapy sessions. Having sessions remotely via video or phone can be a boon to those with mental health conditions and concerns without the presence of psychosis. As mentioned, more serious symptoms such as psychosis may be better treated in person.

Effective counseling through BetterHelp

If remote therapy through video sessions or discreet chat rooms is your preferred communication method, online therapy can be a powerful tool for recovering from depression. Virtual therapy may be more affordable than in-person therapy and health insurance providers may cover online therapy in some cases.

One study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research examined the effects of online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) on depression and anxiety through video chat. Treatment was a 12-week, app-based online CBT program to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety within nine months. Like 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.

Online therapy for depression from home

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 multiple channels, including live chat, video chat, phone calls, or in-app messaging. Through online therapy for depression and its symptoms, you can 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 can. In the case of depression in children or teens, some therapists offer family therapy sessions so that parents can learn how to support their child.

Read below for reviews of licensed therapists from those who have sought help for depression and other mental health care concerns 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 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 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 more positively 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 I'm on the right path. I would highly recommend Justen as a therapist.”

Takeaway

If you or someone you know is living 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 can provide effective support 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.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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