Virtual Psychiatrists: Are They Effective?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated June 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In today’s busy world, feeling the negative effects of stress or mental illness can be common. In some cases, finding a psychiatrist or 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 psychiatry services and 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 online psychiatry and online psychology and how these mental health services work in an online setting.

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Can I get psychiatric help online?

Psychiatry vs. psychology

Some people might confuse psychiatrists for psychologists and vice versa, as they’re both considered licensed independent mental health professionals. However, these mental health professionals are specialized in two different areas of mental health care and have different training backgrounds. They also treat mental health conditions in different ways. 

The main difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is that a psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed medical school and can prescribe medication for different mental health disorders. A psychologist is a mental health professional who has a doctoral degree in psychology and treats mental health disorders through psychotherapy or talk therapy but is not qualified to prescribe medication.

Some board-certified psychiatrists will both prescribe medication and offer psychotherapy to their patients, but this is not always the case. Psychiatrists mainly prescribe medications and perform follow-up appointments for any medication revisions that may be necessary. However, they often collaborate with other mental health professionals, including psychiatric nurse practitioners, therapists, and other medical doctors. Patients who 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

Finding an internet-based professional

You can find many mental health professionals working in an online setting. Psychiatrists with practice may offer telehealth care personally through some insurance plans or for clients paying out of pocket. Talk to your primary care doctor or insurance provider for referrals or in-network suggestions. You may be able to choose between in-person psychiatry visits and online psychiatry visits. 

In addition, you may be able to find online psychiatry platforms that allow you to seek care from psychiatric providers at home. After an initial evaluation and if necessary, online psychiatrists may prescribe medications, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. It may be helpful to do your research on the best online psychiatry platforms, as they can vary. Some platforms may accept insurance for psychiatric care, while others might not. Insurance coverage for virtual mental health care can depend on the policy of the health insurance plan.

If you do not want to or cannot take medication to manage your mental health symptoms or have been recommended against it by a doctor, a psychiatrist may not be necessary. However, if you take controlled substances or are living with a severe form of common mental illness like major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or eating disorders, you may benefit from speaking to a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists may be able to prescribe controlled substances and other medications online. Consult a psychiatrist or another doctor before starting, changing, or stopping any medication or medical treatment.

The BetterHelp platform is not intended for any information regarding which drugs, medication, or medical treatment may be appropriate for you. The content provides generalized information that is not specific to one individual. You should not take any action without consulting a qualified medical professional.
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Benefits of internet-based 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 therapy 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 they 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 virtual therapy?

Therapy is often a key part of mental health treatment plans. Because of the surge of online therapy in recent years, several studies have been conducted on its efficacy.

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 who have been trained and working in a traditional office 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 have never been greater. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Can I get psychiatric help online?

Finding internet-based 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 who 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 want to consider medication to 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, use a platform that offers a board-certified online psychiatrist, as therapists and psychologists cannot prescribe medication or offer medical health services in the US.

Takeaway

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, online psychiatry and therapy services may help. With online psychiatry and therapy platforms, you may meet with a licensed professional who can offer insight, medication, or coping skills that may make life a lot easier to manage. 

Explore mental health options online
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