Is Online Therapy Right for You?

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • As we start a New Year, we often take time to reflect on how our life is going and what we can do to make positive changes in the coming year. A number of online tools and services can help us to reach our goals but may not be in our best interest. It is hard to know whether such services, such as online therapy and online pharmacies, are best for us. Throughout this month, I will be looking at not only these but other online tools that may help us in getting the best medical care we can. I will help you in weighing the benefits and reviewing the disadvantages to help you decide what will work best in your situation.

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    This week, we will look specifically at online therapy.


    What is Online Therapy?


    Online therapy is communicating with a therapist or counselor through a combination of methods, such as email, chat rooms, forums and sometimes via telephone. Your therapist or counselor will still be available to offer support, encouragement, answer questions, provide feedback and help in developing strategies for coping with your circumstances.

    You may hear this type of therapy described in many different ways:


    • Cybertherapy
    • E-Therapy
    • E-Counseling
    • Email Counseling
    • Chat Therapy


    This type of therapy, no matter what name it may go by, is different than face-to-face counseling or therapy, but many people find online therapy to be very effective.


    Online therapy can take the form of back and forth emails, with the client having extended conversations over a period of time. Some therapists may also have group therapy in a private chat room or will have a dedicated forum for participants to share with one another.


    Online therapy is a relatively new concept and there is little research to help determine if this approach would work for you. Ultimately, this is a personal decision, what may be effective in your situation may not work well for someone else.


    Advantages of Online Therapy


    • Available no matter where you live. All that is needed is an internet connection. For those living in remote locations where therapists are few and far between, online therapy can be the best approach.
    • Fits in to anyone's schedule. Emailing can be done based on your schedule, making online therapy flexible, allowing you to participate when it is most convenient for you.
    • Homebound patients can participate. Some physical and emotional disorders make it difficult for some to leave the house. Online therapy brings help to you rather than you having to go to the therapist.
    • Written record of conversations. Once a face-to-face therapy session is over, you must rely on your memory to remember what the therapist or counselor said. Online therapy provides a written record, so you can easily refer back to a conversation.
    • Many people feel more comfortable online. For many, online conversations can be more open. They may feel less intimidated and may be more comfortable sharing details that may make them uncomfortable face-to-face.
    • More affordable. Online therapy is often less expensive than face-to-face therapy. In addition, cost of travel, gas, parking, etc. would be non-existant for online therapy.


  • Disadvantages of Online Therapy

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    • Body language cues are missing. Many people rely on facial expressions and body language to help interpret the meaning behind words. In online therapy, there can sometimes be misunderstandings without these additional clues to meaning.
    • Dependant on Technology.  Online therapy is dependant upon such things as internet connections, regular power supplies. For times when storms knock out power or your internet connection is broken, therapy is suspended.
    • There may be privacy issues. The privacy of online communication is dependant upon the therapists knowledge of technology and use of encrypted information and understanding privacy issues online.
    • Verifying identity or credentials may be difficult. With face-to-face therapy, patients can see the person, ask for local references and check with local organizations to verify identity and the credentials of a therapist. With online therapy, it is harder to check the information. Although it is possible to verify information, it is more time intensive for patients to verify facts.
    • The patient may be responsible for payment in full. You will need to check with your insurance company to find out if online therapy is covered. Many insurance companies may not cover this type of therapy.


    Those that Should Not Have Online Therapy


    • If you are suicidal or have thoughts of hurting yourself.
    • You have a chronic mental illness and require intensive treatment
    • You are uncomfortable with computers and keyboards


    Finding an Online Therapist


    Just as in looking for any therapist there are some factors you should take into consideration when searching for a therapist:


    • Services and fees should be clearly defined. The therapist should indicate what services are included and what fees are for each service. For example, is there a set fee for a set period of time? Does this fee include emails and chat services? Are you able to speak with the therapist over the phone if necessary?
    • References and credentials should be provided. The laws are not yet clear on who can perform online therapy and whether a therapist needs a license to practice in every state their patients are located. A therapist, however, should be able to provide information on references and credentials and you should be able to verify this information.
    • Grievance policies should be outlined. Patients should understand how and where to file a grievance if they believe a therapist or counselor has acted unethically. Good therapists will already have a grievance policy in place and should be willing to share this with their patients.


    No matter the advantages, however, online therapy is not for everyone. It is important to weigh the advantages with the disadvantages based on your particular situation to decide whether this option is right for you.




Published On: January 12, 2010