Online Psychology / Therapy : Should You Consider It?
You may have come across advertisements about online therapy and psychology when scrolling through the web. This has probably made you wonder if online therapy actually works or even how it works. Hopefully, we can answer those questions for you. Keep reading.
What is online psychology?
Online psychology, also known as e-therapy, e-counseling, teletherapy, or cyber-counseling, is based on delivering mental health treatment and support through the internet. Email, text messaging, video conferencing, online chat, messaging, and calls over the internet are all be used to provide services.
Online therapy can take place in real-time, such as through phone calls and text messages, or in a time-delayed way, like sending emails Despite its limits, this type of treatment is starting to become very popular around the world, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are there any special requirements?
No. Not at all, online therapy is just like in-person therapy. You won’t need anything special except for a laptop, desktop, or even a smart mobile phone with an internet connection. Other than that, your device will need to have one or more communication services installed. For example:
- Instant messaging apps
- Vedio conferencing
- Real-time chat
Are online therapists different from in-person therapists?
Not at all. There is no difference. An online therapist or psychologist must have the same qualifications and licenses as an in-person one. However, the actual practice of online therapy is very difficult to regulate since therapists can operate from anywhere in the world. In addition, this makes it tough to enforce state laws regulating education, training, and scope of practice.
Consequently, before you start online therapy make sure you read up a bit about the clinician to find out if they are qualified, licensed, and experienced enough to treat your condition. To do this, you could try reading up on their websites since most online therapists are likely to have one. There you can find, things like licenses, experience, and even testimonials from past clients. You could also ask them questions when you first start the sessions to find out more about them.
What online therapy can help with
Some conditions that can be effectively treated using online therapy include:
- Addiction problems
- Anger management
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Problems in interpersonal relationships
Online therapy can be useful for a lot of complex mental health conditions, however, if you have a condition that requires close or direct treatment or in-person intervention, you may want to take a step back from heading into online therapy.
How effective is online therapy?
One of the biggest concerns that a lot of people have with online therapy is that therapists don’t get to observe and examine the patient’s behavior in real-time, which is a central part of diagnosis and treatment planning. This is not surprising, after all, you will be sitting in front of your computer which is nothing like sitting in an office or clinic with someone. Moreover, clinicians rely on things like tone of voice, body language, and overall attitude on the patient to provide insights into their well-being and mental health.
Another important part of a successful treatment process is the interactions that happen between the therapist and patient. However, online treatment is impersonal and also sometimes fully anonymous. Therefore, many people are worried if online communication can provide the skills, tools, and healing power to patients staring at a screen.
Despite these concerns, research has continuously highlighted the effectiveness of online therapy in the treatment of many mental health problems. For example:
According to a paper published in the journal “Studies in Health Technology and Informatics” on the effectiveness of online cognitive behavioral therapy, “online therapy is almost as effective as in-person therapy with a high treatment adherence rate (around 82%)”. In another study on online CBT, the findings indicated that it is effective in the treatment and management of various psychiatric disorders such as “depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, addiction and panic disorders, adjustment disorder, phobias, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).”
More research is being done in this area now that online psychology is more popular than ever. We recommend that you read up on the many free research articles available on the internet before you actually start therapy. This will help you become less anxious and more comfortable with online therapy.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the popularity of online therapy
At the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for around two years. This is quite a long time. Accordingly, a majority of businesses that used office spaces moved into online platforms and have stayed that way ever since. The same happened with health care. The pandemic basically forced most health care providers to see patients remotely, including psychologists and therapists.
Online psychology was already in use, but its popularity skyrocketed as the demand increased. To illustrate, since the pandemic, when people were unable to receive in-person therapy, searches for online therapy and counseling had increased by around 124%.
For practitioners, the use of technology in counseling and psychotherapy is both challenging and exciting. Traditional methods of delivering therapy are especially difficult for some to give up. Embracing technology and giving clients additional options for receiving mental health care is definitely beneficial when it comes to treatment. However, this does not mean that we are heading towards a completely online era for mental health treatment. It just means that online psychology will start to become a big part of the future of mental health services. While some people may adapt well to online psychology and therapy, it is definitely not for everyone.
That then brings us to the question: why should you choose online therapy? Here are some benefits of online therapy that make it a better option in comparison to in-person therapy:
Online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy
Many studies, including the ones we discussed in the “How effective is online therapy?” section, all point out that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy in treating various mental health problems. Some studies even go on to say that online therapy is a better option in comparison to in-person therapy.
A great option for remote areas
People living in rural or remote places can have access to mental health care through online psychology. Many people living in rural locations may have no other options because there are few or no mental health practices in their area.
Driving or traveling long distances and taking time away from a really busy schedule to do so is stressful. In addition, it may make the situation much worse for people who really need help with their mental health. For instance, imagine if you were someone going through mental health problems because of the stress in your life, having to drive a long distance to get help, and trying to find some time for doing so may add more stress into your life. In comparison, if you have a good internet connection, online therapy can provide you with easy and fast access to treatment that you would not have had otherwise.
Accessibility for people with physical limitations
People who are disabled or housebound can get easier access to treatment. When it comes to receiving mental health care, mobility may be a major challenge. A therapist working from their office or home, for example, may not be equipped to work with clients of different capacities. In addition, people who can not leave their homes due to physical or mental illness may also find online therapy useful, in comparison to in-person therapy.
Convenience and affordability
Often, online counseling is reasonably priced and convenient. Furthermore, since you will be attending therapy sessions online from the comfort of your own home, you can plan them at times that are easier for you.
Today, many health insurance companies worldwide cover, online therapy the same way it covers in-person therapy. Talk to your insurance provider (if you have one) before you start the sessions, to learn more about how online therapy treatments will be covered by your policy.
Therapists that solely treat patients online are likely to have lower extra costs, such as office space rental, and therefore, the financial commitment required for online therapy is often lower, making it an affordable option for people who do not have health insurance as well.
Treatments are more approachable
The internet has made mental health care more accessible. For some people, talking about mental health with their family, friends, and acquaintances may be uncomfortable or even taboo, in comparison to talking about physical health. This could be because of many things including, stereotypes, cultural and social misconceptions surrounding mental health, family background, and personal beliefs and opinions. Being able to access psychological therapy and help online, cuts down the stigma surrounding mental health.
Online therapy is not only for people with mental health problems. For instance, it is an effective tool to help people learn more about mental health. Even if you believe that you have good mental health, online therapy can help you strengthen your mental health. You can learn about health-promoting behavior and coping mechanisms that can help you better respond to stress, negative situations, cope with negative feelings and emotions, and overall increase your psychological well-being.
Cons of online therapy
The benefits that we discussed above, do not come without some risks and disadvantages over traditional therapy options. You need to look at both sides before you choose what you really need. Here is a list of some of them:
Insurance companies may not cover online therapy
Insurance coverage for online therapy may depend on where you live and what type of insurance you have. Some insurance policies exclude online therapy from coverage, and some online mental health specialists refuse to take insurance as payment. Paying for therapy sessions out of pocket might be too much of a financial commitment for some.
Confidentiality, Privacy, and Unreliable Technology
Keeping all the sensitive information that you provide private is a major concern and a very important part of therapy. Going for online therapy makes the issue of confidentiality more complicated. Since information is being sent online, privacy leaks and hackers are becoming more of a problem. In addition, problems with technology might sometimes make it difficult to get care when you truly need it.
Not useful for for a crisis situation
Online therapists are generally distant from their clients and sometimes could even be from another country or state. Consequently, it can be difficult for them to respond swiftly and effectively when a crisis occurs. For example, if a client is suicidal or has had a personal tragedy, it may be difficult, if not impossible, for the therapist to give immediate support.
Not suitable for serious mental illnesses
Online therapy can be useful in a lot of situations, but it is not a good option for people who require close and direct treatment or in-person interaction. For example, if you have a major addictive disorder or more severe, complicated symptoms of mental illness, online therapy may not even be recommended unless you also include additional in-person therapies or treatments in your treatment plan. Online therapy has a limited scope and is, therefore, not as effective as in-person therapy in complicated situations.
Overlooks body language
Your online therapist can’t see your facial expressions, verbal messages, or body language. These signals often consist of a lot of information and provide the therapist with a more complete picture of your feelings, thoughts, moods, and behaviors.
While some delivery techniques, such as voice and video calls over the internet, can provide a more complete picture of the situation, they sometimes lack the warmth and complexities that meeting someone in the real world has. However, some people may feel more comfortable with online treatment, particularly younger people who have a lot of experience with technology, while others (both therapists and patients) may benefit more from in-person therapy that involves more interaction.
Ethical and legal concerns
Online therapy and online psychology do not have any geographical restrictions. For instance, you can even sometimes consult therapists that live in an entirely different country. This makes it difficult to enforce legal and ethical rules. Therefore, it’s always best to double-check your therapist’s credentials and expertise before you begin therapy. In addition, make sure you talk to your therapist or even consider stopping the sessions if any of it makes you uncomfortable.
How do you prepare for an online psychology appoinment?
If you’ve only ever gone for or thought about going for in-person therapy, you might be curious about how you should prepare for an online one. It is a little different from preparing for an in-person session. Here are some tips that can help:
Set aside extra time
Although you don’t have to drive to an office or clinic, make sure you have enough time before your appointment to set up your computer or any other device. This way things won’t feel rushed and instead, you will feel calm and prepared. Don’t be upset if things don’t turn out the way you planned them to. If you run into any technical difficulties, you can always ask your therapist for help. Taking some time to recharge after the session might also help you transition smoothly into your normal daily life.
Find a comfortable private area
Another thing that you need to put a lot of importance into is finding a private and comfortable area for your sessions, where you can freely talk and listen without being interrupted. This may be a challenge if you are living with a lot of family members or sharing a living space with other people.
Find a comfortable place where you feel relaxed. This can be anywhere. For example, a bedroom, office, bathroom, basement, or even your car (if you have an internet connection).
To make sure that no one disturbs you during the session, you could lock your door (if there is one) and/or hang a sign outside your room to let others know that you are busy. Make sure the environment you are in is a secure one, where you can be honest and vulnerable. Taking a few minutes to prepare your environment will allow you to go to your session without feeling rushed or anxious.
Block the noise
You can get a pair of headphones, connect them to your smartphone or laptop and use it to block out any outside noise to maximize your privacy. You could also use your phone to download free white noise applications and play white noise to drown out the sounds from your session.
Check your internet connection
Imagine taking a lot of time to set up your computer and internet connection to find out that your connection is really bad during the session. That would be upsetting. Therefore, you need to make sure that you have a good internet connection before the session begins. Connecting an ethernet wire from your router to your computer provides the best connection. If you don’t have an ethernet cable, a wireless wifi connection will usually be enough. If you don’t have a wifi connection, you could use your phone to make a wireless hotspot. Make sure your internet connection is active before beginning your session so that you may maximize your session length without having to restart your device.
Expect some issues
Technology can be a little bit complicated at times. Especially, for people who don’t have much experience with it. It is always safe to expect minor issues and glitches along the way. Discuss a backup or alternative plan with your health professional in case the connections fail. Making a plan ahead of time might help to reduce anxiety before the session.
Make a list of questions and topics that you want to talk about
This time is specifically scheduled for you, so make good use out of it. Talk about the issues that you may have and also ask questions. In addition, write down any questions, feelings, difficulties, or thoughts you have before and between sessions. Share these notes with your therapist as you work together to achieve your treatment goals.
What we offer at Epsychiatry
Epsychiatry is a telehealth service that offers online psychology, including online consultations and therapy. If you are someone living in Australia with any mental health problems or even dealing with stress, anxiety, grief, and sudden life changes, we can help. We have a team of trained and qualified psychologists and psychiatrists, to help you with every step of the way. Please reach out to us using the contact information provided on the website to consult one of our professionals. You are not alone.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” Fred Rogers: American television host, author and producer.