Online therapy vs in-person therapy
Mental health therapy was traditionally reserved for in-person communication. However, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of technology, patients have more options for their therapy sessions than ever. When it comes to online therapy vs in-person therapy, there are a few key differences. First, online therapy is much more convenient but it suffers from the fact that there are numerous restrictions. In this article, Consumer Opinion Guide explains both treatment modalities while also delving into the pros and cons of each one. We will not provide you with a definite answer of which therapy type is best for you, but you will have all the information you need to make an informed choice.
Online therapy vs in-person therapy – What are the differences?
Each therapy type offers unique benefits. And both treatment modalities are sticking around due to that fact. For some, entering the neutral space that a therapist’s office offers is the best way to improve their mental health, where the comfort of their own home is best for others. There is no “clear-cut” answer as to which therapy type is better, it all comes down to personal preferences. To fully understand the differences, we need to take a look at what in-person therapy is, what are its pros and cons, and then do the same for online therapy.
Traditional, in-person therapy
In-person therapy (also referred to as talk therapy) provides patients with mental support through personal, face-to-face, interaction. These therapy sessions are conducted by a licensed professional in their office and usually last anywhere between 45 minutes and one hour. Psychotherapy, regardless of its format, is extremely effective for reducing depression and psychosis symptoms, meaning that it is as effective as taking antidepressants.
Many people abhor the idea of taking medications. Whether it is due to their principles, beliefs, or anything else. For those people, mental counseling is the best solution to improve their mental health. With traditional therapy, we can observe the following pros and cons:
The first advantage of traditional therapy is that in-person sessions support the addition of nonverbal cues. These cues support verbal communication and can help a therapist to better understand the needs of their patients. This can lead to easier “opening up” from the patient’s side and can help build trust and confidence with their therapist.
Do note that this nonverbal information is not completely lost in online therapy if it is done through a video chat feature. It is, however, completely absent in communication over the phone or via messages. We rely on nonverbal cues to really get to know the person, and they are one of the fundamental tools of social communication.
Sharing private information about yourself can be very difficult to do when you are in a familiar location. A therapist’s office presents “neutral ground”, which is away from your everyday life. A neutral location can increase your comfort and have you share private information much easier.
However, for some people, a neutral location might be worse than the comfort of their own homes. Thus, this advantage can easily become a significant disadvantage for some patients. Even though, having access to a neutral location is almost always beneficial. And with online therapy, you can find the perfect location where you feel most comfortable.
More intensive support
Traditional therapy offers in-person, direct, therapeutic support that is all but required for certain conditions. Media such as art, music, and games all have increased effects when used in person. This is a clear advantage in favor of in-person therapy, something that is very hard to emulate with technology.
Furthermore, the physical presence of another person can be a deciding factor when it comes to the rate of your mental health improvement. Some people all but require to actually feel another person being in the room with them and cannot “connect” to them otherwise. Additionally, your therapist will have an easier time picking up visual cues if he is in the same room with you. Video calls, however advanced, limit these opportunities.
The main disadvantage of any mental health therapy is its cost. In-person therapy sessions average to $100 per session and go up to $250 per hour. That being said, the rates between online and in-person therapy do not differ all that much. But we still have to acknowledge that in-person therapy sessions incur greater costs for the therapist, meaning that they are usually at least slightly higher.
Another disadvantage of traditional therapy is that it is simply not accessible to everyone. Some people cannot manage to go through traffic, deal with public transit issues, or are willing to invest additional commuting time. Furthermore, most people need to take time off work to attend their therapy sessions, which further limits accessibility.
And there’s the fact that some areas simply do not have anything close to easy access to a mental health specialist. People living in rural areas, for example, might need to drive several hours to and from the therapist’s office, making attending therapy sessions a considerable commitment. And, when something is difficult and annoying to do, we tend not to want to do it. Which can lead to missing sessions and stagnation or deterioration of our mental health.
If you’ve opted for in-person therapy, scheduling your initial sessions with your new therapist can be very difficult at times. There may be long waiting periods due to various issues such as lack of availability or inability to adjust therapist/patient schedules. This can create a significant obstacle to improving your mental health.
This is, obviously, highly dependent on where you live. If you are living in an area where there is only one available therapist, you may have a hard time scheduling your sessions.
Online therapy goes by many names: teletherapy, virtual therapy, even cyber-therapy. Its main feature is providing mental health support from any location the patient chooses. It is usually conducted in form of video calls, emails, texts, or phone calls. Therapists usually offer these virtual options directly through their personal practice, via online platforms. Studies have shown that online therapy has about the same effectiveness as in-person therapy.
Most of the “online” therapists who join a virtual therapy network offer lower costs for their therapy sessions. Especially if you are booking multiple sessions at a time. Furthermore, you will have much more options when it comes to online therapy. Patients have the opportunity to work with one of the many online networks, all of which are competing to lower the therapy cost.
The issue with the cost, though, is that most insurance coverage plans will not cover mental health therapy in full, be it traditional therapy or online therapy.
Needless to say, the fact that you can attend therapy sessions from your own home is supremely convenient. You can connect to your therapist from just about anywhere, at any time of your choosing. Sessions still need to be scheduled but with so many options, patients will not have any issues in finding the ideal therapist. Some networks allow patients to connect to their therapist within an hour, even, making this option even better for those who need assistance as quickly as possible.
Ease of access
Online therapy is much more accessible than its traditional counterpart. People with social anxiety, for example, or those that have difficulties commuting, benefit the most. There are no associated travel costs, either, making this yet another large advantage.
With online therapy, you have the option to go full “Incognito“. Meaning that no one can see you leaving for the therapy sessions, and no one needs to know that you are attending them in the first place. This provides many patients who have issues with mental therapy a way to receive help without being exposed to additional stress.
Reliant on the internet
If you don’t have access to the internet, you can’t undergo online therapy, at least not in any other form than by phone. Furthermore, the loss of internet on each end will abruptly stop your therapy session. But with the internet being more and more stable and accessible with each day, we do not believe this will be a problem for much longer.
There’s no doubt that some mental conditions all but require in-person therapy. While online therapy may be amazing in its own right, there’s no replacing the “human factor” in some cases. Additionally, many therapists support their income by joining virtual therapy networks, meaning that the care they provide might be sub-par.
Lack of body language
If you opt for therapy via email or text, you lose a great deal of understanding through body language. Without these nonverbal cues, communication can soon feel quite limited. As an additional note, many patients assume that their therapist will be available 24/7 via text or email, which is not the case.
Online therapy vs in-person therapy – Who “wins”?
As you can see, there are many pros and cons to either therapy modality. Online therapy can be more affordable, is more convenient, as well as more accessible. But traditional, in-person, therapy offers a more personal degree of patient-therapist communication. When it comes to online therapy vs in-person therapy, the overall situation leans in favor of online therapy and embracing the role of technology in medical care. However, you will need to decide for yourself which is the best approach for you or your loved one to take.
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