Businesspeople fly – or used to fly before this century’s first Great Plague – halfway around the world for a short meeting; sometimes held at the airport. Then, they’d hop back on a plane and fly home. Why? “Because I need to see the person’s face!” “Because I need to shake their hand a get a sense of the person!” “Because I’m not comfortable doing business with someone I’ve never actually met.”
Post-Covid, these folks were forced to accept the new era of Zoom conferences, Skype calls and various other online arrangements. And most are finding it’s not that bad. Some actually prefer the new model as the trade-off tilts heavily in favor of convenience and cost control.
But what about therapy? Are those seeking advice or guidance from licensed therapists willing to forsake the couch and switch to online therapy?
Admittedly, it’s a harder sell than giving up a business handshake for a Zoom meeting. Therapy is deeply personal. Patients often share intimate details or secrets; which for some is harder to do online. Can a therapist really gauge your mood and detect underlying issues without feeling and seeing your physical presence? These and other issues have made some reluctant to try online therapy, but there is evidence that online therapy is helpful and that online therapy works.
Talk Space may be among the most well-known providers of online therapy. The company made a splash by getting Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps as a spokesperson touting the benefits of their services. Dozens if not hundreds of other online therapy options also exist, such as those listed on the website https://www.top10.com/online-therapy. But where’s the proof they work?
If you want to get technical, read studies from Behaviour Research and Therapy, the Journal of Affective Disorders (both 2014), or the Journal of Psychological Disorders (2018), all of which reported that online therapy is as helpful and effective as face-to-face treatments for a wide range of needs – from panic disorders to social anxiety disorders – and is even effective for those suffering from major depression.
Many readers may be shaking their heads “no” at this point as it’s still too hard to imagine how a therapist chatting with you online could be as close to as effective or helpful as a face-to-face meeting, but let’s consider some salient points.
In many places, if you don’t happen to have awesome insurance, seeing a therapist is prohibitively expensive. In other places, distances mean patients often cancel appointments when something more pressing comes up as they just can’t travel for hours for a session. Online therapy has options for all budgets and, obviously, eliminates the need to go anywhere.
Also, think of the process of visiting a therapy provider: you need to walk into a place that most has a sign on it proclaiming “So-and-So-Therapy.” What if your neighbor or boss sees you? Online therapy does away with the potential for embarrassment. Additionally, many providers allow patients to use pseudonyms or “nicknames,” adding a buffering layer of privacy for those hesitant to seek help.
If you are feeling suicidal, or have been diagnosed with certain conditions such as schizophrenia, online therapy isn’t for you. Such patients require the direct contact provided by face-to-face counseling.
A whole lot of people, however, might just need someone to talk to. Maybe you’re dealing with less life-threatening issues such as relationship troubles or a rebellious teenager. Far too many people decline to seek treatment or advice for such “trivial” matters for the reasons listed above: it’s too expensive, too far way, and or too embarrassing. Online therapy addresses each of those concerns.
Those already comfortable with the digital age may even share more revealing or truthful details online – as they don’t have to directly face another “real” person.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to the efficacy of online therapy and plenty of anecdotal evidence as well. As the 2020s progress, it’s a fair assumption that video conferencing technology will improve, perhaps drastically. People are already having therapy sessions via smartphone; imagine a few years down the road when AI programs are developed that detect minute facial changes or assist in voice analysis. Future algorithms could lead to improved diagnoses and treatments for those in need, making online therapy the superior option.
Online therapy might feel as counterintuitive as making major business deals over a chat app, but indicators and scientific data show it’s as effective or perhaps even more effective than the traditional method. If you have any medical issue that you feel requires the aid of a professional – be it body or mind – why not check out one of the numerous online options?
It’s a too-often used phrase, but: what have you got to lose?