Can Online Therapy Services Be Effective And Beneficial For You?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Free support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Having a challenging day or experiencing sadness can be natural for many individuals. However, if you are feeling down for an extended period or cannot get a break from your symptoms, you may find that reaching out for professional support can improve your mental health. 

Several factors could keep people from receiving professional mental health support. Many may feel self-conscious or struggle to afford the cost of meeting with a psychologist or therapist. Others might live in rural locations and struggle to attend an in-person therapy session. Furthermore, some might have difficulty talking to people due to social anxiety and other mental health conditions. 

By participating in online therapy, you may receive support from anywhere you have an internet connection, including in the comfort of your home. Before considering online therapy, it can help to know its benefits and how it might support you personally.  

Getty
Is self-doubt making you think about reaching out for help?

What is online therapy?

The delivery of psychological services through telecommunications via phone, video, or chat has grown in popularity over the last 20 years. Receiving mental health care remotely has existed since 1960 and grew out of the need to reach people who experienced barriers to mental health care. 

With the advent of the internet, this form of counseling has developed into a prevalent mental health service known as online therapy. It is the subject of many research studies that ascertain its efficacy and proposed benefits. 

Virtual counseling is also known as internet-based therapy, cybercounseling, e-therapy, or e-counseling. It is a service where mental health support is provided over the internet via phone, video, or live chat sessions. Virtual counseling can be done through a variety of media, including but not limited to:

  • Email
  • Texting
  • Live chat
  • Video chat
  • Phone calls 

This treatment method can provide a similar range of services as in-person therapy and may serve a diverse population of those with a safe phone or internet connection. While telepsychology has been used for the past 20 years, the invention of smartphone technology has expanded the reach of this service. Various mental health-based companies have created online therapy apps to improve the availability and cost-effectiveness of professional therapy. 

Why choose online therapy services?

Being able to talk to an online therapist from the comforts of one's home may make a world of difference to a person who has a hectic schedule, cannot take off time from work, has no insurance, or is concerned with being seen walking into a clinical office.

No physical office or commute 

Many people with anxiety and depressive mental health disorders may feel unable to make and keep appointments at physical offices. Making appointments, getting dressed, and commuting to an office can seem overwhelming, and many choose to avoid therapy altogether. 

With virtual counseling, these obstacles are often removed, and a person can receive support in the safety and comfort of their own home or anywhere with an internet connection. 

Options for those in remote or rural locations 

You may live in a remote location or a populated city, which can cause a long commute to get to and from appointments. Some people live where clinical social services are not available, thus preventing them from receiving in-person therapy. 

Individuals struggling with such a situation might find internet therapy valuable. High demand in a big city may encourage individuals to turn to services like virtual counseling. 

Reachability

Online therapy services can help individuals with physical limitations receive mental health support. This service can be especially vital to individuals with limitations related to mobility.

Additionally, individuals living with mental health disorders may benefit from virtual therapy. For instance, a person with agoraphobia(the fear of places and situations that might cause panic) might not want to visit a physical therapy office. With internet counseling, they can have clinical social services via video chat, telephone, or instant messaging and work on their fears in a safe environment.

Getty

How do online therapy services work?

Virtual counseling operates similarly to in-office therapy. Online therapists are licensed to provide counseling, treatment plans, and advice for mental health-related conditions online. They can practice the same methods of psychotherapy services as in-office providers, with a few exceptions. 

Insurance and telehealth services

Some health insurance providers may cover the cost of seeing an online therapist. Online therapists who accept health insurance as a form of payment can meet with a client through telehealth services without additional costs in many cases. However, some online platforms do not offer the ability to pay with insurance, although they may be cheaper out of pocket. 

Online therapy services offered

While there are many services offered for various conditions, symptoms, and concerns, a few standard services can include: 

  • One-on-one online chats with a therapist or counselor
  • Group chats
  • Text messaging
  • Live telephone therapy
  • Video sessions
  • Online videoconferencing
  • Email chatting
  • Virtual self-help

When you sign up for internet psychotherapy services, you may be assigned a therapist immediately or browse the group chat rooms. Some websites might also have virtual self-help therapy services where you can work independently with activities and videos that guide you through your symptoms and potential treatments. However, these sites are not intended to replace the advice of a licensed therapist.  

Sessions with an online therapist are also not intended to replace emergency services. If you feel your issue is an emergency or that you or someone near you is in life-threatening danger, call 911. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available to assist 24/7. You can also text 988 to receive support over SMS.

Getty/D3sign
Is self-doubt making you think about reaching out for help?

Finding professional support 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 53 million in the United States are living with mental health disorders. This number equates to 1 in 5 people. There may not be enough in-office therapists, psychologists, and mental health professionals to treat this number.  In some areas, you might have to wait a few months before receiving your first appointment for in-office therapy. Online therapy can help reach those who cannot find a therapist in an appropriate amount of time. 

If you have difficulty scheduling appointments due to a busy schedule or other barriers, consider online therapy. You can schedule sessions with your online therapist when most convenient for you. Furthermore, several studies have shown virtual therapy to be as effective as in-person therapy, with the added benefit of increased availability for those who live remotely or who are seeking a more cost-effective option. For example, in a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, psychiatrist Haim Weinberg found that many of his clients who shifted from in-person to online therapy felt more comfortable opening up online because of the defensive barrier of the screen and the comfort of being in their own space. 

If you're interested in getting matched with a licensed therapist in as little as 48 hours, consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp, which offers phone, video, and live chat sessions. You can schedule an appointment with your therapist whenever you are both available. Couples can also take advantage of online therapy through a platform like Regain.

Takeaway

Online therapy services can offer many benefits to people from all backgrounds. If you're interested in learning more about online therapy or signing up, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or visiting one of the platforms mentioned above for further guidance and support. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist who has experience providing cognitive behavioral therapy or other therapeutic modalities to meet your mental health care needs. Take the first step toward improved mental health and contact BetterHelp today.

Explore mental health and healing in therapy

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started