Online Psychiatrists: Are They Effective?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated November 29, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
In today’s busy world, feeling the negative effects of stress can be common, and yet finding a therapist often seems like a daunting task that just adds to the stress. Not to mention that adding another appointment to your schedule can be a challenge. So, what can you do when you start feeling overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety or depression? 

Telehealth has taken off in the past several years, especially in the form of online therapy. You may wonder about the efficacy of online therapy, and whether it is the right option for you. In this article we’ll explore both online psychiatry, and online psychology and how they work in an online setting.

Can I Get Psychiatric Help Online?

Online Psychiatry Vs Psychology

Many people use the word psychiatrist and psychologist interchangeably, but these are two different areas in the greater field of mental health care. 
The main difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that a psychiatrist attends medical school and can prescribe medication for different mental health disorders. A psychologist is a mental health professional that has a doctoral degree in psychology who treats mental health disorders through psychotherapy, or talk therapy, but are not usually qualified to prescribe medication. 
Some psychiatrists will both prescribe medication and offer psychotherapy to their patients, but this is not always the case. Many see patients as a medical doctor, prescribe medications, and perform follow-up appointments and any medication revisions that may be necessary. Patients that see a psychiatrist may work with them to manage their medications, while they participate in talk therapy with a psychologist or other mental health professional. 
Other mental healthcare professionals that are qualified to offer talk therapy for mental health conditions include the following:
  • Licensed therapists
  • Licensed social workers
  • Licensed family and marriage counselors
  • Psychoanalyst
  • Licensed mental health counselors
  • Addiction counselor
You can find any of these professionals working in an online setting. Psychiatrists may be more difficult to find than some others because of the medical aspect, but if you talk to your primary care doctor or insurance provider, you should be able to find someone to work with. If you do not need medication to manage your mental health symptoms, a psychiatrist may not be necessary. However, if you take controlled substances or are living with a severe form of common mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorder, you may benefit from speaking to a doctor.
Consult a psychiatrist or another doctor before starting, changing, or stopping any medication or medical treatment.
Getty/Vadym Pastukh

Benefits Of Online Therapy
There are a number of reasons why a person may choose to do online therapy. 
For many people, searching for a therapist and then attending in-person sessions can be a chore. People with busy lifestyles may find that setting aside time each week for therapy can be far easier and more convenient when they can do it from the comfort of their own home or office. 
For others, it can be difficult to find a therapist that is the right match for their needs. Someone who wants to work with a specialist like a religious trauma expert, or an LGBT-friendly therapist may find themselves out of luck in certain regions. Some more rural places may not have more than one or two options, and they may not be a good personality match. Online therapy allows for a far larger field of candidates, who can work with a client from anywhere in the United States, or even the world. 

Often, online psychiatry is more cost-effective than traditional in-person therapy. This is because therapists working in this way can avoid the costs of renting and maintaining office space, and can pass those savings along to their clientele. Even if certain therapists or offices don’t take insurance, many will offer sliding scale payments or discounts on sessions. 

Finally, some people living with severe anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions may find it difficult to meet with people in person, or in some cases even leave the house. Those with physical challenges may also find that offices are difficult to enter. Online therapy can offer an option that is unmatched for people who may not be able to get themselves to an office setting. 

How Effective Is Online Therapy?

Because of the surge of online therapy in recent years, several studies have been conducted on the efficacy of online therapy.
Current research shows that online therapy is just as effective as traditional therapy. In addition, because of the popularity of online therapy, more and more education, resources, and technology are being geared toward this kind of practice.
Many therapists that have been trained and working in a traditional psychiatry setting for years are setting up either a part-time or full-time online practice. Others who are still learning or new to the field are getting a thorough education in the nuances of online practice because they intend to work in that field from the start. Options for online psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental healthcare professionals has never been greater. 
Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Can I Get Psychiatric Help Online?
Finding Online Therapy Options

Finding an online therapist has also become easier as the field has expanded. There are several ways you can find an online healthcare provider. 

  • Talk to your primary care doctor. Your primary care provider (PCP) should be able to provide you with a list of licensed professionals that are covered by your insurance or are qualified to work with your mental health condition for treatment. They can be especially helpful for finding a psychiatrist if you suspect or know that you need medication to help manage your symptoms. 
  • Online search. You may also choose to do an online search for therapists who work online or a new psychiatrist. There are several sites that offer facts about therapists, and you can check to see which of these practices take online clients. 
  • Find an online therapy platform. If you are interested in finding exclusively online therapists, and want a personalized approach, online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can steer you in the right direction. With BetterHelp you simply fill in a quick questionnaire online and you will be matched with a therapist that meets your needs. You can then meet with them over video conferencing, messaging, or even the phone. If your first therapist doesn’t work out, you can switch to a new one without any financial penalty. 

Note that most online therapy platforms do not offer medication management, psychiatry services, prescriptions, or medical healthcare services. For a medical treatment plan or online psychiatry, use a platform that offers access to a board certified online psychiatrist, as therapists and psychologists cannot prescribe medication or offer medical health services in the US.

The advent of telehealth and its subsequent growth have allowed for a previously unimagined level of participation in mental health care. If you are living with symptoms related to mental health conditions, or are simply overwhelmed by day-to-day stress, therapy can help. With online therapy you can meet with a licensed professional that can offer insight and coping skills that may make life a lot easier to manage. 

Counselor Reviews

“Samuel is an extremely smart man and makes me feel like he actually cares about me and my mental health. He goes the extra mile in finding me local groups and clinics and refers me books to read. I still have a long way to go but I’m glad it’s with him. Thank you, Sam”

“Julie is by far more than just a therapist. She is a god sent angel. She knows and understands mental health inside and out. She also has a great ability to keep the session focused and hone me back in if needed. She shows the most amount of empathy and understand I have had the pleasure in having of a therapist. She gives homework appropriately and has so many tricks up her sleeves. I am honored to have her in my life.”

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