If you had a chance to receive therapy services through your phone, would you take it?
The current boom in technology development and increasing public reliance on phones and computers have created a new scene for therapy services. Today, you can sign up for therapy platforms like Talkspace, Pride Chat, Betterhelp and Regain and begin counseling in minutes.
These and other organizations offer therapy services composed only of remote communication, through text or chat rooms, audio and video recorded clips, live virtual conferences and more. All these forms of communication combined are referred to as online therapy, or virtual therapy.
People who struggle with mental illness, life crisis and LGBTQ+ issues are finally free to access help through their devices without ever leaving home.
People who can’t make traditional therapy work because of their work schedule or social anxiety can receive help, too. Grief and addiction services can be easily found online among many more mental health services.
A Little Online Therapy Background
Sometimes, searching for a therapist who’s in a convenient location and covered by insurance can be a chore, or maybe, you just can’t find a therapist whose hours match your busy schedule.
Online therapy services are a way for consumers to seek therapy in a safe space, after-hours and on their own terms. Communication options are generally made up of phone calls, video conferences or text messages.
But, of course, online therapy can’t meet everyone’s needs. Some people, especially those with more severe mental illnesses, require regularly scheduled face-to-face contact with a therapist. Online therapy can still be added to their care plan as an extra form of support.
These are some popular online therapy services to help you get an idea of what it’s all about:
- Talkspace (read about my experience with Talkspace here)
- 7 Cups
- Doctor on Demand
Is There Evidence That Online Therapy Works?
How can you know if online therapy will be worth your time and money? Some studies have shown promising results about the effectiveness of online therapy, making a strong case that this type of service can augment the mental health care system.
For example, a 2018 study performed on university students in Malaysia revealed that approximately 35% of the student population said they would use online therapy but were not comfortable seeking in-person therapy.
This shows that a significant portion of the population can be better served by at least having the option for online therapy if they otherwise have trouble talking to someone in person.
Tests led by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) from 2006 to 2010 also concluded that when veterans used teletherapy services, they were 25 percent less likely to be hospitalized in a psychiatric unit. Undoubtedly, the option of online therapy or teletherapy can significantly improve the quality of some peoples’ lives, enough to help them avoid medical emergencies.
But online therapy isn’t always all you need. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), online or virtual therapy is best used in conjunction with in-person therapy, a recommendation based on available study results at this time.
The bottom line is that every person will receive a unique level of benefits from online therapy. The only way to really find out if it’s right for you is to try it out yourself.
Paid vs. Free Online Therapy
While many people can easily afford online therapy services, there are many who cannot. Some may be afraid to make the investment in these services because they’re not sure it will be helpful to them, while others could save money by using insurance at tradition therapy centers.
The cost of online therapy varies widely, depending on the features offered in each company’s online therapy platform. To get started, some simple therapy options are offered online for free, such as Blah, 7 Cups and iPrevail.
Free online therapy services are usually peer-to-peer, have a wait time and don’t offer professional services. That doesn’t mean they won’t be helpful to you. Maybe starting with free services is a great way to discover if online therapy is a good fit before you purchase a paid option.
Most of the free services offer upgrades for payment, including access to licensed therapists and more one-on-one connections. Pricing varies and can run anywhere from $10 to $250 per week.
Pros and Cons of Online Therapy
To help you decide if you want to try online therapy, here is a list of pros and cons regarding its use. Each person is different, and so are their preferences when it comes to therapy. For instance, some people hate face-to-face interaction while others thrive on it. Compare these pros and cons to help you determine where online therapy might fit in your life (or not).
- Lower price than traditional in-person therapy, or sometimes even free
- Convenience of using the services on your own schedule
- Some services offer interaction with licensed mental health professionals
- Portability—no transportation to appointments required
- Some services may be covered by health insurance, but not all
- The learning curve. If you’re not someone who works well with technology, it might be even more difficult for you to use online therapy
- The price. If you want the help of a licensed professional, you’re going to have to shell out some money
- Impersonality of talking to someone over the internet rather than in person
- It’s easy to put therapy off if you don’t have to schedule appointments and be held accountable
Online therapy seems to be most useful for those who are tech-savvy, have phones with the ability to use apps, have an internet connection and who are too shy or embarrassed to use live services. While there are free options, be prepared to pay a fee to access better programs.
How to Find the Best Online Therapy Services
So, you’re ready to get started with online therapy. How do you know if the online therapy you’ve found is legitimate? There are a few important components you should look for when shopping for an online therapy service, including:
- Licensed professionals. If you’d like to work with a professional therapist licensed within their field, look for credentials and organization registration numbers.
- Safety and security. Is there a contract guaranteeing your information will be kept private? Can you trust this organization with your deepest secrets and emotions?
- Is this online therapy option going to cost you more or less than in-person therapy?
- Convenience. Sometimes, you might be willing to pay a little more for online therapy if it meets the needs of your hectic, busy life. After-hours therapy is convenient for people with busy lives.
Many online therapy platforms offer free trials, so you can get acclimated with the software before shelling out the big bucks. Pay attention to the availability of your therapist and find out whether the program offers weekend services.
Will Online Therapy Work For You?
The decision of whether to use online therapy services can be a tough one, especially when you don’t have much knowledge in the technology field. Continue researching online therapy and looking for quality online services until you feel satisfied.
Remember, trying a free service might be the best way to determine if you want to take the jump into online therapy. After about a week of free services, you’ll be familiar with the process and technology and better able to decide if you like online therapy.
At that point, you might be ready to choose a paid service. Jump in, but realize, it might take a few tries with different programs before you find one that works well for you. Stay patient and keep checking your options, and you’ll be thankful you waited.
Online therapy should never be a substitute for emergency mental health care. If you experience a mental health crisis, call an ambulance, take yourself to the hospital, ask a friend for help or use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.