Why Online Psychotherapy Is Becoming So Popular
Updated May 09, 2019
Reviewer Lauren Guilbeault
People love to have options. Being able to make a choice, even if just the lesser of two evils, allows us to feel at least somewhat in control and a little less at the mercy of forces we cannot understand. When it comes to mental health issues, a patient should not have to be stuck with one particular therapist only because his insurance is not accepted by anyone else, or due to a lack of licensed counselors near his geographical location.
Even if a therapist is eminently qualified, he and a particular patient may simply not be capable of meaningful communication for any of a variety of reasons, or the patient may require expertise in an area the therapist is not experienced in. After all, you have to feel completely comfortable with someone if you are going to tell your innermost thoughts and feelings to them. For these reasons, as well as others, more and more people are turning to online psychotherapy as an alternative.
The Benefits of Online Psychotherapy
While much of the stigma formerly attached to mental health issues such as depression and PTSD has been erased, there are still a number of conditions which will make those affected hesitate before seeking help. Few people will want drug addiction or a history of sexual abuse to become public knowledge, and a therapist's assurance of professional confidentiality might seem purely theoretical in such a situation. When you go to see a therapist at their office or in a medical building, it is pretty obvious that you are there for mental health care so if you are trying to hide it, that is not the way. Even though hiding the fact that you may need to talk to a therapist is not really necessary, some people just are not comfortable letting others know their business when it comes to that kind of thing.
Apart from billing information, there is no necessity of sharing any personal information with an online service, while there is usually a Chinese wall between the information a therapist and referral service respectively have access to. This brings professional assistance within the reach of many who would otherwise be forced to face their problems alone.
A therapist working out of an office practice can see perhaps a maximum of eight to ten patients per day. In contrast, an online counselor offering therapy by text - which has indeed been proven to be an effective therapeutic modality - can potentially be in communication with several patients simultaneously.
The therapist working out of an office has to pay rent, utilities, insurance, and pay their employees that they need to help them with appointments and that sort of thing. Since email or text chat does not necessarily require real-time responses, an online therapist can take his time reviewing his notes and previous conversations before composing an answer. There is no wasted productivity due to canceled appointments or seeing patients who aren't currently ready to discuss their issues with complete frankness. Additionally, online therapists have no need to rent commercial space, while counselors who are semi-retired or otherwise prefer to work part time can continue to practice. All of these factors combine to lower the cost of online therapy.
Does Health Insurance Cover Online Therapy?
Your health insurance may cover part or all of your mental health care, but they usually do not cover online therapy. However, as it gets more popular, more insurance companies are beginning to cover online therapy. In any case, because online therapy is so much cheaper than traditional face-to-face therapy, most people prefer to pay out of pocket. This is an easier and sometimes cheaper option to using your health insurance because the cost of online therapy is usually cheaper than what the average copay would be. There are no forms to fill out and you can continue to be anonymous, which you cannot be if you use health insurance.
Not every person is able to attend weekly counseling sessions in an office environment, for reasons ranging from work to difficulty traveling. Those people who live in rural areas or do not have adequate transportation may have no way to get to a therapist's office. Online therapy, on the other hand, can take place in the form of scheduled video conferences at any time, possible to attend from anywhere the internet can be accessed from, if therapy by text does not seem to be adequate.
In addition, people who suffer from depression, PTSD, or anxiety disorders tend to have motivation problems. They may find it difficult to get out of bed on some days, let alone getting in the car and driving to an appointment across town. This is one of the most common reasons why people who need therapy end up not getting the help they need. Being able to get therapy from the comfort of your own home is a big benefit for those people.
Is Online Psychotherapy Effective?
According to the American Psychological Association, one out of every four adults in the United States need mental health counseling but only 13% of these people get any kind of treatment. The reasons may be money, stigma, support, transportation, or just lack of motivation. However, research shows that individuals who need treatment are more likely to get help when online therapy is available to them. Therefore, no matter how much therapy is available, if a person does not feel comfortable going, they will not get the help they need. Online therapy changes that for a lot of people. In addition, a study done by the University of California in Berkeley showed that those patients who used online therapy had broad improvements in their mental health and wellbeing. The changes seen in those with depression found that they had at least a seven-point improvement in their depression systems according to the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9).
The truth is, people who have mental health disorders sometimes do not get help for one reason or another. Sometimes it is because of the high cost, sometimes it is because they do not believe they need any help, and other people just cannot find the time to find a good therapist close to them. It can be difficult to find the right therapist that you can feel comfortable enough with to open up to and it can take some time. Many of us just do not have the time. You can try getting a referral from someone such as a friend or family member or maybe from your family physician. However, it is ultimately up to you to find the right one.
Online Therapy is a Big Time Saver
Online therapy, whether it is video chatting, texting, instant messages, or email, can save you a lot of time. In fact, there are mental health care sources online that have thousands of professional and licensed therapists that you can choose from. BetterHelp.com is the largest mental health care provider in the world and they have over 2,000 licensed professionals who have helped over 1,500,000 people with hundreds of different issues. They use a banking grade 256-bit encryption system so you do not have to worry about privacy and you can stay anonymous if you want to. You cannot do that if you go see a psychologist in an office. Just as with any medical services, your therapist is bound by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) and other federal laws to protect your privacy and never disclose anything you tell them.
Online psychotherapy services take great care to vet those working through them, to ensure that all therapists are indeed qualified and licensed to the standards mandated by law. Research has indicated that online therapy can be just as effective as counseling in a traditional setting. Telepsychiatry now makes essential care much easier to access than ever before.