As mental health issues are on the rise, so too are the solutions to help. Online therapy has exploded in popularity as traditional methods have been unavailable and the mental health field  has scrambled to support the escalating need for services. Understandably, the question that arises for many is how effective is online therapy?

Online therapy falls into two primary categories – (1) Device supported help through the use of an app, online coach (real or AI), or a combination of both, or (2) Traditional therapy through an online platform like Zoom or by phone with a licensed practitioner. In this article, we will look at how effective online therapy is in the latter category – traditional therapy delivered remotely.

Research consistently shows that online therapy can be very effective for some mental health issues, specifically depression and a variety of anxiety disorders. But, here are the pros and cons to consider in response to the question of how effective is online therapy in general. 

Pros:

Expanded reach

People in rural areas where therapy options are scarce or people without access to transportation find online therapy helpful. Therapy is more accessible to a wider range of people when location isn’t a concern. 

Location neutral  

Similarly, without location constraints, people have a broader choice of therapists. Rather than considering only those within reasonable driving distance, seekers of mental health services can look nation or worldwide for a therapist who matches their need. 

Less intimidating

Those who would never enter a therapist’s office are more likely to consider online therapy. By removing the stigma or embarrassment of being seen in a waiting room, potential clients are more likely to reach out for help. Their privacy feels more secure in an online environment. 

Greater honesty

When safely tucked behind a screen, clients are sometimes willing to share more honestly. The extra layer of protection they feel when they are distanced from the person they are sharing with allows them to talk more freely without feeling so vulnerable.

Time effective

Removing the extra time it takes to drive to a therapist’s office before, during, or after work reduces another obstacle to people seeking help. Clients are more likely to show up to their appointments when time is less of an excuse to no-show. 

Cons:

Body Language

Effective therapy relies on a therapist’s ability to read the non-verbal signals of a client. With only a small view (or in some cases no view) of a client’s body, a therapist doesn’t get a full assessment into the client’s wellbeing and diagnosis can be difficult or inaccurate. 

Compromised Relationship

Therapy is built on a strong bond between a client and therapist. Online therapy can be a barrier to this bond as trust is more difficult to build in a remote setting. Without the trust that’s built in this critical relationship, the outcome of therapy may be less effective. 

Privacy Considerations/HIPAA

Online platforms are not universally compliant with HIPAA regulations and privacy laws. You must take special care to assure confidentiality when using a computer or phone to deliver therapeutic services. Clients need to know and understand the risk before engaging in therapy.

Technology Distractions

Once the privacy hurdle is addressed, frozen screens, poor connection and other technology glitches can negatively impact the online experience. When a therapist or client misses key words or sentences, the experience is less than optimal. 

Not Right for Everyone 

Not every client issue is a match for an online therapy experience. Certain conditions require a higher level of care than an online format can’t support. Knowing in advance which issues respond best to online therapy is important before starting a client/therapist relationship. 

When researchers asked the question how effective is online therapy, they found strong evidence that it’s a viable solution for the treatment of depression and anxiety related issues. It’s still important, however, to consider the pros and cons of this kind of experience to determine if it’s the right fit for you.