Is Online Therapy Chat Effective?

By Nicole Beasley

Updated January 29, 2019

Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault

Technology has changed every part of life, usually for the better, including the way psychotherapy is practiced. While some traditionalists may tend to look down at online therapy chat as a therapeutic tool, research has shown that it is indeed an effective way of treating a large range of mental health issues and producing results comparable to traditional, face to face counseling.

Online Therapy's Accessibility


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Providing healthcare for mental issues via the internet brings effective treatment within the reach of a wide spectrum of people who would otherwise have been left with a few good options. Their access to therapy might be hampered by a lack of funds, physical location or lifestyle, but online therapy chat neatly circumvents all of these problems.

Traditional therapy in-person is more expensive than many online options. There are people out there that know they could benefit from talking to a therapist, but they just can't come up with the funds to make it happen. So instead, they don't see any type of treatment. Online therapy takes care of that.

There are also people that would like to get help from counseling but they either don't have any options near them in the instance of people that live in rural areas or they just might not have the ability to go. For example, they may not have a car that they can drive to get to their therapy session, or they may have young children at home that they aren't able to leave and don't want to bring them along to a therapy session.

In addition, online therapy provides a much higher level of discretion than office visits. Despite the effort's therapists make to safeguard their patients' confidentiality, it will always be up to each individual to decide how much faith should be placed in such measures. Particularly if some mental health problem is associated with feelings of guilt or shame, some patients will certainly feel more comfortable discussing their feelings and experiences in a totally anonymous setting. This aspect also applies to those who don't want to regularly take time off work for therapy or prefer to see a counselor without their spouse knowing.

Online Therapy helps fight the stigma around mental health

Some people that could benefit from treatment decide not to take action in getting the help they need because they are concerned about what others will think They don't want to chance that someone ends up noticing that they were walking into the therapist's office and then feel they need to explain why they had an appointment. The shame that some people experience from needing to get help is enough to keep some people from doing anything. The ability to have an online chat session removes all of that.

When you get help instead of giving in to the stigma cycle you are able to continue making progress instead of staying stuck in it.

Online Therapy as a Complementary Measure

There are some things which are simply not possible with online therapy: prescribing medication or physically assessing a patient's state of health, perhaps being the most significant. Even so, the unmatched level of availability it offers in time and space means that it can certainly help to flesh out more traditional techniques.

A patient with a condition such as anxiety or addiction can now seek immediate help or at least verbalize the problems he may be facing from moment to moment. This is simply not possible with an office-bound therapist yet becomes quite easy using a smartphone.

The patient no longer has to wait until their weekly or monthly appointment to be able to address their concerns. When you are experiencing a very trying time in your life than waiting until the next appointment to ask questions, seek advice, and get help can seem like too long. For those that are experiencing major depressive disorder or other disorders that impact their ability to function on a daily basis, this immediate access to care can make all the difference.

What you should look for in online chat therapy

If you are going to try out online chat therapy you want to make sure that you are contacting a reputable company that has licensed therapist. These types of sessions will still come at a cost, but it's much lower than an in-person setting would be.

Make sure that you do a little research to find out what the qualifications are of the therapists that are working for the site. You may also want to find an option that allows you to work with someone that has similar beliefs as you instead of just assigning you to a random person. Or, if you prefer to work with a male or female therapist this should be an option that you can specify.

Remember that the entire point of therapy either online or in person is for you to get the help that you need. If the option isn't working then look for a new option that will. If you've been attending in-person sessions for months and feel like you are still lacking something that could help you in your recovery process it could be as simple as having faster access to getting the help that you need.

As long as you are working with a licensed and experienced therapist you should be getting the exact same results that you would get from an in-person appointment. Make sure that you ask any questions before you get started to make sure that you are comfortable moving forward. It's important to be comfortable when reaching out for help or else you aren't going to invest yourself in the chat sessions or appointments like you need to in order to benefit.


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Greater Flexibility

There is no real reason, apart from the convenience of the therapists themselves, for scheduling therapy appointments in an hour or half-hour blocks. Some clients will prefer shorter sessions, while others can benefit from longer ones, both of which become much easier to arrange online. Text exchanges can be sent back and forth at any time, allowing both parties time to think about their responses and review the history of their communication.

In addition, online counseling services can work with a number of specialists and refer a patient to appropriate help as needed. In the real world, a patient with dual diagnosis-type problems, who might benefit from counselors experienced in both areas, might need to go through a lengthy process of referrals, selecting a new therapist and building rapport with him, while an online environment allows all of this to be accomplished with the touch of a button.

While online therapy chat will never replace physically present counselors in, for example, an inpatient environment, its wider reach opens many new avenues for the treatment of mental health issues. This innovative approach is certainly here to stay, and it is time for a wider conversation on how its benefits can be incorporated into other, more conventional courses of treatment.

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