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Is Online Therapy Effective?

Medically Reviewed and Edited by 
Olga Kyrychenko, Psychologist

If, like an estimated 26% of Americans, you have ever sought help for any kind of mental health issue then you will no doubt know all too well that whilst medication is prescribed far too readily, actual therapists can be both hard to access and seriously expensive.

Furthermore, even if you can find and afford a good therapist who you trust, it can often be difficult finding the time to make your appointments especially if you have an already busy and stressful life. 

Fortunately, over the last decade online therapy has begun establishing itself as an accessible and affordable alternative allowing more patients than ever to access the help they need and deserve. However, the idea of online, semi-anonymous therapy may sound strange and even dubious to some of you and many health care professionals maintain that face to face, in person therapy is far more effective.

What Is Online Counseling?

Firstly, we need to clarify what exactly we mean by “therapy” here. The term is used to loosely capture all manner of “talking therapies” or treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Counselling, whereby a therapist helps a patient explore their problems verbally.

Whilst each therapeutic discipline and each individual therapist operates slightly differently, therapy is widely used to help patients with anxiety and depression, grief or trauma, relationship problems or addiction issues. 

The Pros of Virtual Therapy

1. Cost

The major pro of virtual therapy is that it is generally a whole lot cheaper than conventional face to face therapy. Online Therapy providers operate a business model that allows them to charge far less than traditional therapists and patients can typically save from 50% – 200% per session – the prohibitively high cost is the main reason that people who want therapy often cannot get it so the benefit of this cannot be exaggerated.

Smaller therapy sites in particular usually offer extremely competitive rates, especially if you subscribe to monthly or even yearly plans. To see some examples of these, read our affordable therapy guide or our and Healthsapiens review. If you are strictly looking for a free counseling app – read our 7Cups review first. 

The reason why these smaller sites offer such attractive prices is because unlike the top online therapy sites – they don’t work with any type of insurance. If you think you might be eligible for copay, we suggest checking our list of the best online therapy that accept insurance

2. Accessibility

With traditional therapy, you book a slot in advance and absolutely have to show up for it. Whilst this is not a problem for some patients, for others, their personal circumstances can make it hard or even impossible to do this. Therefore online therapy offers the huge advantage of being totally accessible. 

Patients can conduct sessions from their own homes and in their own time – most providers even operate a 24/7 service, something that is exceptionally rare with conventional therapists.

If having a therapists available at all times for chat or text messaging is your number one priority, read our Talkspace review. Talkspace is not only one of the leading platforms in the U.S, but also offers a unique feature they call “guaranteed response times” – meaning, your counselor will reply to you within a certain amount of hours, 5 days a week.

3. Anonymity

Some patients find it impossible to open up about their problems in person. With online therapy however, they can choose to stay anonymous and can opt for text therapy and simply exchange messages with their therapist.

If keeping things as private as possible is a major concern for you, then you should consider using a free app such as 7Cups. While some sites ask for very little information when you signup, they do need your personal details for processing payments. Sites that work with insurance companies require even more information. If you prefer a paid service, which is naturally more professional than a free one, but still want to maintain as much privacy as possible – read our Betterhelp review and see if that can be the best fit.

The Cons of Online Therapy

1. Less Effective Than Face To Face

Whilst there are very real and pertinent benefits to Online Therapy, most professionals (even ones working online) agree that face to face sessions are generally more effective. Ultimately, human beings are social animals and we really do thrive on having the “human touch” – often, just feeling the presence of the therapist can make a patient feel more open and “seen” which ultimately makes the session far more beneficial.

Currently, the only counseling site that actively tries to tackle this difficulty is Sondermind. They allow you to choose between virtual treatment, live sessions or a combination of both. Sondermind isn’t one of our top rated apps, but if that feature seems useful to you then we suggest you read our full Sondermind review before making up your mind. 

2. No Body Language

Any trained therapist is able to tell as much about you and your emotional state by watching your body language as they are from listening to you speak. Whilst zoom calls do allow a therapist to pay attention to your facial expression and tone and voice, they cannot see what you are doing with your hands, or if your foot is nervously tapping.

Whilst some of you may not want a therapist “reading” you like this, they are less able to direct the sessions and help you without these visual cues and tells.

3. Not Covered by Some Insurers

One of the major disadvantages of online therapy is that whilst some medical insurers recognize and cover online counseling, others do not. Even insurers who do cover it may not cover your preferred website and instead direct you to their preferred partner instead – and this will always be the one who gives them the best deal rather than the one that offers you the best service.

Currently, the best online therapy site to use with insurance is Amwell. They work in all states and partner with the largest amount of insurance companies – including Medicare and Medicaid. Read our full Amwell review or our list of best online therapy with insurance for more details.

Is Online Therapy Legitimate And Safe?

Some of you may be wondering whether online therapy is “legit” and is online therapy safe? I mean, how do you know you are not really talking to an unqualified student on the other side of the world, a chat bot or even a data thief?!

Well rest assured, online therapy is every bit as legitimate as traditional therapy. All virtual therapy providers are HIPAA regulated and all registered therapists are required to have relevant, professional certification – you will be able to see what exact qualifications a therapist holds when you browse their profile.

As long as you do your research and choose a properly regulated provider, you do not need to worry about the legitimacy of online therapists. All of our online therapy reviews include a detailed breakdown of the company’s information and background, as well as the regulations and protocols they follow to ensure your safety.

Who Should Use Online Therapy?

The first question we need to ask here is rather, who should seek therapy in any form? Whilst zealous advocates of therapy maintain that absolutely everybody could benefit from some form of therapy, it is of particular value to anybody experiencing anxiety/depression/low mood, grief or trauma, addiction issues, PTSD, relationship problems or work related stress.

Couples or group therapy can also be useful for marriage and family difficulties.

All of the above mentioned conditions can be successfully addressed by virtual therapy. Online Therapy is however not suitable for anybody with a serious psychiatric illness and may not be ideal for anybody in immediate “crisis”. 

Also remember that online therapy relies almost entirely on dialogue so if you are not able to express yourself verbally you may not get the most out of it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Online Therapy Help?

Like any form of therapy, the results of online therapy differ from one patient to the next. However, the general success and growth of the industry speaks for itself and is testimony to the fact it has proven very helpful for millions of patients around the world.

How Effective is Online Therapy?

Online therapy can be as effective or even more effective than face to face therapy for individuals who are not comfortable opening up in a face to face environment. The convenience and accessibility of it also means that you can usually access a therapist when you feel like talking, rather than when your appointment happens to be booked for.

Who Should Use Online Therapy?

Online therapy is ideal for those who do not feel comfortable sharing face to face. The flexibility of it also makes it great for those who have busy lives or simply struggle to maintain a routine. Finally, online therapy is very helpful for people who cannot afford or access face to face therapy.

Why Use Online Therapy?

If you do not feel able or ready to speak to a therapist in a face to face setting, then online therapy may be helpful. Online therapy also allows you to access a wider range of potential therapists than will be available to you locally and can give you flexible, convenient access for appointments. Another reason to consider online therapy is the cost benefit - it is a lot more affordable than conventional therapy.

How Much Does Online Therapy Cost?

Like any other form of therapy, the exact costs vary depending on your service provider, your personal therapist and your particular needs. Some services charge a weekly subscription whereas others charge per session. An aggregated average figure however is around $100 per week for 2 sessions including 24/7 support.

Why Online Therapy?

As you can now see, online therapy has opened up scope for treatment for millions of patients by providing affordable and accessible help. Each year, the industry grows and improves even further, servicing millions of people all over the U.S. 

We hope this article helped you get a better idea of the benefits online therapy can provide, and whether or not it might be effective in helping with your particular situation. If you are still not entirely sure, the best thing to do is read more reviews, or go for one of the best online therapy sites – these are usually the safest bet.

One of the best things about many of the therapy sites we recommend is that they require very little commitment on your end to get started. Most of them offer either a free trial, free consultation meeting, a generous welcome bonus or a combination of all three – so there is absolutely no reason not to give online counseling a chance.