All kinds of activities and services that used to exclusively be available in person can now be reached online as well, and that includes mental health counseling and mental health care. Especially since the pandemic, there has been a growing wave of people that have begun accessing therapy through telebehavioral health or telemental health counseling to get the support they need. If you’re new to this format, you may wonder how exactly it works, how it is different from traditional therapy, and whether it’s effective. We’ll examine these questions in depth below.
How Teletherapy Works
Teletherapy refers to receiving mental health care in a virtual format. This term typically applies to online talk therapy sessions, which are usually conducted by phone call or video call. Exactly how teletherapy works depends somewhat on the platform or service you go through. In most cases, however, you’ll move through the following steps in your initial sessions:
- Sign up for and access the platform or service
- Provide information about the mental health challenges you’re seeking help with
- Provide information about your needs and preferences in a provider (e.g., someone experienced in LGBTQIA+ issues, someone trained in trauma-informed therapy, etc.)
- Get matched with a licensed therapist
- Meet with them regularly via phone or video to set treatment goals and receive treatment
If your therapy appointments take place via phone calls, a working device and a quiet room are all that you need. If your therapy appointments take place via video call, you’ll need a working device (smartphone, tablet, or computer) that can connect to the internet and has a camera, you may also need video software depending on the platform.
Key Advantages Of Teletherapy
Each individual should feel empowered to choose the type of therapy that’s best for them. There are certain advantages to teletherapy that may make it a more attractive option than in-person sessions for some; let’s take a closer look at these.
You Don’t Need To Travel For Appointments
That means teletherapy allows people who might not have the ability to get mental health care otherwise to get the treatment they may need. For example, some teletherapy users live in rural areas, meaning there might not be in-person providers anywhere near them. Others have a physical disability or a mental illness like social anxiety that may make it difficult or impossible for them to leave their home to get to their sessions. Still others may not have reliable transportation, or may have too busy a schedule between caring for children and work to allow for commuting back and forth to appointments. In situations like these, online therapy can be a much more convenient option.
You Can Control Your Environment
Some people choose teletherapy because they prefer to receive the support of a therapist from the comfort of their own home. They can wear whatever they like, sit comfortably, and change the lighting and the temperature of their space as desired, etc. For those who have specific needs or preferences around these types of environmental elements, being able to control them can put them at ease and in the right frame of mind for therapy.
It’s Typically More Cost-Effective
Mental health professionals who provide in-person guidance generally have significant costs to cover, such as rent for their space. However, those who conduct teletherapy tend to have fewer such costs and may therefore charge less for their services. The average cost of an in-person therapy session in the United States is between $100 and $200. The average cost of a teletherapy session tends to be much lower. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, for instance, costs range from $60–90 per week. Although BetterHelp in particular doesn’t accept insurance, this cost is comparable to most insurance co-pays. In other words, those who can’t afford regular in-person therapy sessions may find that online therapy is a better fit for their budget.
You Have More Options For Providers
For those who live in remote areas where there aren't a lot of therapist options, teletherapy can also represent a viable alternative. Unless you live in a major metropolitan area, you may have trouble locating a provider who suits your needs or preferences, who is accepting new clients, and who is located within a reasonable distance of where you live. With teletherapy though, these limitations can be solved as you can choose from a much wider range of providers since geographic location is not a factor. This can be especially helpful for those who are seeking a specialist or someone with a specific type of expertise. It also allows people to switch therapists more easily if they find that the first one they try isn’t the right fit.
The Effectiveness Of Teletherapy
There’s a growing body of research that suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person sessions in many cases. It’s important to note that in-person treatment may be best in certain situations, such as for more severe mental illnesses or any circumstance where the individual’s safety may be at risk.
Research suggests that for the majorityof general mental health conditions and concerns, however, virtual therapy may be able to provide a meaningful impact. Peer-reviewedstudies that suggest this include the following:
- A 2020 study reports that online cognitive behavioral therapy—one of the most common types of talk therapy today—is “at least as effective” as in-person CBT in reducing symptoms of depression.
- Another study suggests that virtual therapy is an “effective and cost-effective” treatment method for symptoms of anxiety, with another that found the same for symptoms of depression.
- A study conducted at the University of Zurich found that individuals who received virtual therapy were more likely to describe their care as “personal”. This finding is meaningful since a positive therapist-client relationship is typically highly important for treatment efficacy.
- Finally, couples who attended relationship counseling together via video reported that they felt safer and “less intimidated and judged” by their therapist, according to one study.
According to a 2016 study, online CBT “offers numerous benefits to both the patient and the practitioner” and “allows treatment of patients with many different psychiatric conditions, at lower cost than traditional CBT”.
Getting Started With Online Therapy
In general, you’re likely to get the best results from pursuing therapy in the format or medium that feels most comfortable for you. If you’re interested in trying online therapy, you might consider using a platform like BetterHelp. All BetterHelp therapists are licensed and have a minimum of three years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience in clinical practice. You’ll be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire about your needs and preferences and will be matched with a provider in as little as a few days. You can then meet with them via phone or video call, and you may also use in-app messaging to reach out in between sessions. See below for client reviews of BetterHelp therapists.
“Melissa is wonderful. So happy to be working with her, especially because I was so hesitant to do online counseling in the first place. Really grateful for BetterHelp and the experience I've had!”
Teletherapy can be a more convenient and affordable option for many people, and studies suggest that it can be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions and challenges.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Difference Between Telehealth And Teletherapy?
Telehealth is a broad category of health services that can be delivered virtually. Both physical and mental health services fall under this category. Teletherapy is a specific type of telehealth care that encompasses mental health services in particular.
How Is It Done?
Therapy sessions conducted through teletherapy are typically almost identical to those conducted in person except for the fact that they’re done via phone or video call instead of in person. An individual seeking online mental health treatment simply needs an internet connection and a working device to attend therapy sessions with their provider.
What Can I Expect?
Teletherapy treatment is very similar to in-person treatment. It’s simply another way to receive support from licensed professionals for mental illnesses or other mental health concerns from the comfort of home with your therapist on the other end.
Can Online Therapy Be Just As Effective As Traditional Face To Face Therapy?
This is a question that anyone considering online therapy should ask. Many wonder whether therapy sessions done with video conferencing would be just as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy. It is appropriate to want to verify the authenticity of a type of therapy that is still considerably underutilized compared to traditional face-to-face therapy. However, there is a substantial amount of evidence that proves the effectiveness of online therapy.
A study in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare showed that after just a month of treatment, most individuals who used online therapy services reported improved mental health. They also reported levels of overall satisfaction and comfort that are similar to those reported by individuals who make use of face-to-face therapy.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Psychological Disorders reported that online cognitive behavioral therapy is “effective, acceptable, and practical healthcare.”
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found online therapy to be equally as effective as in-person therapy in treating depression.
Online therapy has been proven to be as effective in the treatment of anxiety as face-to-face therapy. One of the benefits of teletherapy is that it can also be used to treat complex mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, addiction, or ADHD.
What Is Online Therapy Called?
Online therapy is referred to by several names. These include:
- Online clinical psychology
- eMental health
- Mobile health
- Internet therapy
- Video therapy
- Virtual therapy
All these names point to the fact that online therapy uses online tools and electronic devices to deliver health therapy.
Is Online Therapy As Good As In Person?
There is a lot of evidence that shows that online therapy is just as effective as in person therapy. It is highly effective in the treatment of a range of mental health disorders, including:
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder etc.
It also facilitates the use of types of clinical psychology-based therapy such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Speech therapy
- Occupational therapy
And other forms of health therapy.
What Are Some Possible Advantages And Disadvantages To Online Therapy?
The advantages include:
- It is convenient and more affordable than face-to-face therapy. This empowers people who normally wouldn't be able to afford therapy to find a therapist.
- During a state of emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic, therapists and patients who can’t hold face-to-face therapy sessions can maintain a therapeutic relationship using online therapy.
- Providing mental healthcare for people who don’t have health insurance.
Disadvantages of online therapy include:
- Insurance companies may not cover it
- Some states do not allow out of state health providers
- If you do not use a trustworthy platform, you may be at risk
- Your sessions are at the mercy of electricity and technology. This can be disadvantageous for people undergoing action-based treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Is Online Therapy Expensive?
Online therapy is much more affordable than face-to-face therapy. The fees depend on the company you choose as well as the details of your plan.
Unlimited messaging typically costs around $40 per week. Therapists usually charge between $90 and $120 for a video conference. This is very affordable when you compare it to face-to-face therapy, which costs around $75 and $150 an hour. This is because online therapy is home-based, and therapists don’t have to pay for office space, allowing them to charge more affordable rates.
How Do I Get The Most Out Of Teletherapy?
What Is The Advantage Of Teletherapy?
Can You Use Zoom For Teletherapy?
How Is Teletherapy As An Slp?
What Are The Types Of Teletherapy?
Who Is Not Appropriate For Teletherapy?
What Is The Difference Between Telehealth And Teletherapy?
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