Can Attending Therapy Online Be Effective?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Online therapy is a more modern invention, starting with the popularization of the internet in the 1990s. Over the years, it has become a more widespread option for mental healthcare, with four out of ten Americans connecting with online therapy providers instead of face-to-face mental health services since 2021. However, some people might have reservations about using an online therapy platform for mental health issues, as it can seem that online services may not be as effective as those used in person. Understanding the statistics surrounding online therapy can help you decide whether it would be effective for you.

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Interested in trying online therapy?

What can online therapy do for you?

Some people may wonder if an online therapy platform can be as effective and safe as traditional in-person therapy. To understand its effectiveness, looking at the types of mental health conditions often treated using an online platform can be valuable.

Participating in online therapy sessions can help you learn healthy coping mechanisms, help in treating mental illness, and make positive changes in your life. A licensed online therapist may address several concerns, including but not limited to the following:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Health challenges
  • Chronic pain
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Decisions surrounding your career
  • Panic disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Other mental illnesses

Is online therapy effective in addressing mental health concerns?

People who have never tried online mental health care may be wondering, does online therapy work? Online therapy has been endorsed by the American Psychological Association (APA) and many other reputable psychological organizations. In addition, many studies have backed up the effectiveness of virtual therapy. Below are a few statistics and experiences with online therapy that may offer further insight into this form of mental health treatment. 

Statistics demonstrating the benefits of online therapy

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of studies on online therapy. However, several significant studies have been consistently cited and reviewed. Studies have determined effectiveness for multiple mental illnesses, stress, and relationship challenges. Below are a few statistics showcasing the effectiveness of online counseling:

  • Depression: One meta-analysis of over 17 studies found that online therapy was more effective than in person intervention options for treating depression.
  • Anxiety: Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can be done online, and one study found that it was effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety. 
  • Bipolar Disorder: Researchers found that 95% of participants with bipolar disorder had an increased quality of life after using online therapy. 
  • Couples Conflict: Research has shown that couples prefer online therapy over videoconference to in-person options due to the level of comfort it provides.
  • PTSD: Internet-based treatment helps facilitate a strong therapeutic alliance for clients with PTSD and achieves a sustained reduction of symptoms. 
  • User experience

In addition to the above studies, specific studies have examined unique online platforms to discover user experience metrics. One study looked at the online platform of BetterHelp and asked participants to rate quality, convenience, effectiveness, achievement, affordability, and availability. Clients rated the online platform: 

  • 71% more effective
  • 78% higher quality
  • 76% easier to progress in
  • 90% more availability
  • 100% more convenient
  • 80% more affordable 
These results show that many user reviews of online therapy platforms are positive and in line with the statistics above. To learn more about online therapy cost, health insurance coverage, mental health providers, and therapy modalities, you can visit BetterHelp’s FAQ.

Online therapy modalities

There are over 400 modalities in the realm of psychology that may be practiced in face-to-face therapy. Many of these modalities can be transferred to online counseling, including almost all talk therapy modalities. A few common forms of therapy you can find online include the following:
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Gestalt therapy
  • Rapid eye movement and desensitization reprocessing therapy (EMDR)
  • Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP)
  • Mindfulness-based therapies
  • Couples counseling
  • Integrative therapy
  • Internal family systems (IFS) 
Talk to your online mental health professional to find out what they specialize in. Many of these modalities have been found to be as effective or more effective than their in-person versions through studies on internet-based therapy. 

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Is there a benefit of online over in-person therapy?

Convenience

In-person therapy may not be as convenient, as it can involve driving to an office, finding parking, and paying for transportation. Online therapy and mental health apps allow people to attend therapy from anywhere with an internet connection. Speaking to a licensed therapist from home may increase the effectiveness of these services because many people feel more comfortable at home, which has been proven by studies. 

Cost 

Studies have also considered the cost-effectiveness of therapy. Multiple researchers have determined internet-based interventions more cost-effective in general and for specific groups, such as those trying online therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, some insurance providers cover therapy costs, online or in person, through employee assistance programs.

Efficacy 

Online therapy is often more efficacious in certain circumstances than in-person therapy. For example, men often find online therapy more effective because it allows them to reduce social stigmas surrounding their mental health. Additionally, online therapy via video chat allows for mental health professionals to see their client’s body language in addition to listening to them speak, creating a connected environment similar to what one would experience with in-person therapy.
Reaching out to a therapist

In psychotherapy, the therapeutic process often makes it easier to approach, reflect, and recognize challenging life topics with an open mind. However, choosing a therapist, making appointments, and attending sessions can be stressful for some people. Below are a few reasons people might not contact an in-person therapist. 

Fears about starting counseling

For some, the prospect of seeking professional help may bring up unacknowledged fears of stigmas. Some people may fear that something is wrong with them, that they will be judged, or that they cannot be helped. Although you may feel nervous about taking this step, mental health providers are trained to provide objective, supportive guidance, including online. 

In-person counseling can feel daunting

Many people with anxiety, social phobias, severe depressive symptoms, and a history of trauma can find it challenging to attend in-office therapy appointments. They may fear being judged, rejected, or further traumatized during in-office therapy sessions.

These fears may also be due to the many steps involved, such as potentially meeting with several therapists, choosing one, getting ready, driving to an in-office therapy session, filling out paperwork, attending a session, and then driving back home. Online therapy may remove these barriers, increasing its efficacy. 

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Interested in trying online therapy?

Therapy options

In some cases, online therapists have found that clients can open up and experience relief of symptoms more quickly than in an office setting. This result may be due to the client being present within the safety of their home and the distance between them and the therapist. For some clients, there can be an unconscious desire to be liked by the therapist or please the therapist, which can lead to self-censorship, the omission of information, or avoiding talking about challenges.

However, during sessions with online therapists, many clients feel a sense of freedom to talk about their concerns. As noted above, studies have proven that internet-based therapy is as effective, if not more effective, than face-to-face treatment. Although both options can be beneficial, you might find that the benefits of online therapy outweigh the benefits of an in-person provider.
Takeaway
Online therapy has been shown to be effective for a variety of mental health concerns, including anxiety and depression. Whether you’re seeking online cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, or another modality, numerous studies have found online therapy sessions to be just as effective as in-person therapy treatments.

With online therapy services at BetterHelp, you can still have personal contact just like in face-to-face therapy in an office, as you can connect with a therapist via videoconferencing. Connecting with a therapist, scheduling a session, and attending therapy can be more effective or efficient than in-person therapy. If you feel uncertain about online counseling, you can investigate the studies above or contact an online therapist for an initial appointment. You’re not alone, and high-quality support is available.
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