How Does Technology And Counseling Work Hand-In-Hand For Mental Health?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Technology in counseling is a relatively new pairing that is largely driven by the effort to find solutions to barriers to mental health care. Virtual reality therapy is an innovative approach that shows promise in improving availability and effectiveness of treatment for mental illnesses. This therapy focuses on immersive experiences to promote behavior change, develop coping skills, and treat conditions like chronic pain, anxiety, or depression.

The use of technology in therapy has grown exponentially in recent years, allowing more and more people around the world to get the mental health counseling they need. If you're experiencing emotional problems or mental disorders, there is help available through a broad range of services facilitated by modern technology. Below, we'll explore the numerous ways that people are using technology to pursue cognitive behavior therapy, couples therapy, or group therapy from the comfort of their own home.

Are you afraid online therapy might be too expensive?

History of remote therapy

While it may seem like a new thing, believe it or not, therapy and counseling services first left the office as far back as in 1972. That was the year the first experiments took place in creating a computer communication involving psychotherapy. In 1986, Dear Uncle Ezra was providing mental health advice in an online format, and in 1993, online depression groups were forming, offering support for mental wellness.

However, this experimental technology in counseling was perceived as questionable for the ethical implications. Further, mental health chatbots and internet chat rooms were not generally run or monitored by professionals in those days.

Initial skepticism

In the last few years, online medical and psychological services have become more widely accepted. Patients can now receive medical advice from a medical doctor or a therapist who can perform psychological testing. And with online payments and videoconferencing for business, this technology for counseling makes more sense to people, including mental health providers. 

People were initially skeptical about how traditional counseling, such as cognitive therapy and marriage counseling, could transfer to the internet. However, social media and other technologies helped legitimize internet communication in our daily routine. Both the professional therapist and the clients can benefit from using online services for communicating and scheduling appointments.

Types of online counseling

Thanks to technology, counselors can offer help to individuals, couples, and families through a variety of therapeutic modalities, such as family counseling, dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and family systems. Advancements in mental health technology have allowed clients and their mental health provider new ways of interacting.

Nowadays, you can communicate with a counselor or therapist via phone, videoconferencing, and online chat—or a mix of all three methods. For example, with BetterHelp, you can use in-app messaging to send your family therapist any thoughts or questions in between sessions, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.

Online counseling advantages

Online therapy can be especially useful for people living in rural areas or regions that have few therapists. It can be challenging for people in such areas to commute to a therapist’s office while juggling work and family responsibilities. It can also be costly, which is a big advantage of online therapy, which tends to offer affordable rates and a larger pool of counselors to choose from. By incorporating technology into their practice, therapists can even provide long-distance counseling for couples or families who live in different areas. Online therapy can also offer these benefits to those with a counselor education wanting to offer services without renting an expensive office or paying an expensive commute. 

Individuals living with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions have a more convenient way to attend each therapy session and treat mental illness. For someone who is experiencing depression and feeling fatigued and overwhelmed, it can sometimes be difficult to leave the house, much less attend a therapy appointment. Online sessions with a mental health nurse, primary care doctor, or therapist can provide support without the added stress of commuting.

Similarly, for someone with social anxiety, it can be daunting to go to a new office and explore their thoughts and feelings in face-to-face counseling. Online therapy can provide a solution for people experiencing these mental health challenges. A person experiencing anxiety can choose to write to their counselor on their smartphone using mental health apps rather than talking to their counselor during a live counseling session. 

Aside from more scheduling options, this technology allows individuals to write to their therapist during stressful times via in-app messaging. They don’t have to wait until their next appointment to tell an idea or concern. They can often obtain feedback from their therapist within 24 hours rather than waiting an entire week. This feature could lead to faster progression in therapy for some individuals.

Modern online therapy: The opportunity to see and hear your therapist

Videoconferencing and the "live" feature are among the newest innovations in the online counseling field, and they’re quickly diffusing some of the criticisms related to online therapy. Counselors have long complained that text chat, possibly with mental health chatbots, does not allow mental health professionals to notice body language, visual cues, or the client's stress or incongruity, which can be important in many cases. 

In online therapy, counselors can see their clients and hear their voice to develop rapport in the counseling sessions. With the use of technology, clients are able to connect with their therapist in a more comfortable way. They can see their therapist’s facial expressions, which may lead to a greater sense of empathy and understanding.

For people who are comfortable using social media or online social platforms, online counseling can be an attractive option, offering comfort and familiarity. Multiple types of counselors can practice online, including those offering school counseling, career counseling, and couples counseling in the counseling profession. 

With BetterHelp, you don't have to pick

When engaging in online counseling with counselors, clients don’t have to choose between one form of communication or another. With BetterHelp, clients can use the live sessions and send updates throughout the week to their licensed marriage or family therapist as things happen or when they are dealing with self-destructive behaviors or facing especially difficult situations involving family members.

This isn't usually available for clients in traditional office settings. Clients might be able to leave their counselor a message or have a quick conversation with their counselor if an urgent matter pops up in between sessions, but it is not a common practice for most in-office therapists to offer this in their services.

Now that counselors can see visual cues and hear a client's voice in video sessions, it may be easier to convince health insurance companies to work with online therapists. There may also be opportunities for therapists to obtain licensure in multiple states as the evidence of online therapy’s effectiveness continues to grow.

Are you afraid online therapy might be too expensive?

Takeaway

If you have ever thought about going to counseling but never tried it because of expense or inconvenience, you might find that online counseling with today's technology is an affordable option that brings help directly to you, in your home. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist holding a doctoral degree and contact them via videoconferencing, phone, and in-app messaging. No matter where you live or what you’re going through, you don’t have to face it alone. Take the first step to better mental health and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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