For those who have never tried online therapy, it can seem too good to be true. After all, therapy websites promise counseling services any time around the clock, seven days a week, that you can access anywhere with an internet connection. It costs less than traditional counseling too. You're told you'll be assigned to a counselor based on several factors unique to you. Therefore counseling online is easy, convenient, and cost effective. But is it for real? Let's check it out…
There are some therapy websites that have counselors without any credentials. These counselors have not been trained to practice psychotherapy and do not have state/national approval to practice psychotherapy. To ensure you are working with a licensed professional counselor, look for sites with licensed counselors (LPC, LMFT, LMHC, LCSW, etc.) with master's (M.A./M.S.) or doctorate (Ph.D./Psy.D.) degrees. Looking at what degrees a counselor holds often can give you an indication of what their focus is as well.
Unsecured Therapy Websites
It is imperative that a therapy website is secured with encryption. Beware: some therapy sites do not secure their site with encryption due to high operation costs. Your privacy and confidentiality should be the highest priority of any therapy website. Always make sure that the therapy website you are utilizing has state-of-the-art security and an encryption system (SSL) that follows strict federal and state laws and best practices. Without encryption, it means that any information that you share, either in writing or through video, can be hacked by just about anyone. It means you could have someone you don't know listening in on your conversation. You could have some serious problems that way.
Ineffective Customer Service
The quality of customer service you get on these sites can be a real tell. Signs of a possible scam are unfriendly customer representatives, representatives that blame you for any problem with your account, are unresponsive to requests for assistance, and the representatives do not actually solve the problem. You don't want to have to deal with people who just don't seem to care about you. Instead, you want representatives who are completely professional and friendly. Any company that's worth their salt is going to hire only the best people. They don't want a representative that badly represents their brand. That means if you find anyone in the organization is being a bad representative then that's a bad sign. Genuine therapy sites employ responsible customer service representatives that treat your inquiries in a respectful, matter-of-fact way, clearly explaining policies and offering solutions that are timely and helpful.
Inappropriate Acceptance in Emergency Situations
In emergency or crisis situations, a reputable therapy site will refer you to local resources. In these types of situations, such as suicidal/homicidal ideations/attempts and concerns of abuse, immediate and face-to-face interventions are required. Be wary of therapy sites that will take anyone regardless of the situation. You want to make sure you have a therapist that understands you and who is looking out for your best interests. What that means is your therapist wants to make sure that you're going to be safe and healthy even if that means you're going to pay someone else for the services. If your therapist wants to talk to you personally but tells you not to go to anyone else then they're not really looking out for you. The main concern for these therapy sites tends to be making money, growing clientele, and expanding their reputation.
Before you sign up with an online therapy service, do some research into the price per hour of a local therapist. If the site you're considering demands you pay more than you would for in-person therapy, it makes sense to go to a therapist in your area. After all, in-person therapy is going to give you a slightly more in-depth experience. When you're talking with a therapist in person they get more of your facial expressions and tone than someone who you are only talking to through a computer. It's worth the rate in general. Therapy sites usually offer a subscription in which you pay a monthly or quarterly fee versus an hourly fee. Thus, you can choose an online therapist that charges less and gives you more than you would get by going into an office for treatment. That's definitely going to make you feel more comfortable and help you save money at the same time.
You should never underestimate the power of a gut feeling. When you walk up to someone or look at someone and you get an immediate feeling about them, chances are there's a reason. Even if there's not a reason, you're likely not going to feel comfortable with someone that your gut is telling you just isn't right. If you're not comfortable with your therapist that means you're not going to open up to them and you're not going to get the help that you're looking for. With an online therapist, this is even more important because you're not getting the benefit of being in the same room with the person. If your gut is telling you that something is wrong or that you don't feel comfortable with that person then all you need to do is sign off and find someone else.
Reviews and Recommendations
If you're looking for a professional for anything you want to take a look at other people who recommend them. This can be a little more difficult with a therapist because not everyone is willing to give an endorsement even if the therapist is really great at their job. But look for recommendations from other therapists and from former or current patients that are willing to talk about their experience. This can let you know more about what you can expect and whether or not the therapist you're looking at is actually going to help you. It's not a guarantee, but it's definitely going to give you a better idea of what to expect.
It's important to note that there are definitely some great therapy websites out there. A recent New York Times article highlighted how many more therapists are growing more comfortable with teletherapy as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The article pointed out that the peer-reviewed studies to date have shown that remote therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, and is likely to increase the number of people who are able to receive care.
Some of the reasons why may seem obvious: for people who live in rural areas, finding a counselor online negates limited options and a lengthy commute. Online options are often cheaper than traditional therapy options as well. As we said, reviews can be a great way of looking into the practices of an online therapy website. Here are some recent reviews of BetterHelp counselors:
“I can’t say enough good things about Teresa Henson. She truly has shown me that regardless of this being her job she cares about people. She made me feel so comfortable especially since this was my first time doing online counseling. She is going through major battles in her life and still made sure to assist me whenever I needed. She took the time to give me tools that I could use in the future and has helped tremendously with the way I communicate with others. I will definitely come back and search for her. I wish her nothing but the best and know whoever is lucky enough to get her as a counselor is in great hands! Thanks so much for everything Teresa.”
“Ashley is amazing at her job, I previously never thought it was possible to have such a great therapist. I suffer from sever[e] trauma and other conditions that I thought were too sever[e] for online therapy, due to the pandemic online is the safest option so I had to bite the bullet and try regardless of my previous failed attempts. Ashley has single-handedly changed the way I view online therapy and therapy as a whole, she is so knowledgeable and actually knows what she's doing, she works with you for the best approach she provides TRUE therapy and care. Everyone is different but for me personally she is the best care I have ever experienced and I definitely recommend her!”
No matter what route you take, make sure you look at each of these factors and find a therapist who is licensed, helpful, and who just makes you feel comfortable.