More and more aspects of life in today’s modern society take place online. Paying bills used to require going to the business and writing a check but that can now be managed in a few minutes. Shopping for new clothes used to require driving to the mall but now a few clicks on a website and that new pair of pants is on its way. The COVID-19 pandemic has even pushed more people into working from home and children attending classes virtually than ever before. Finding a psychotherapist that can help you talk through your problems is always a great start to improving your well-being online.
The possibilities for online technology are pretty much endless if the desire is there. One of the exploding new options available online is therapy and counseling. Gone are the old days of traveling across town in rush hour traffic during the week to see a therapist. Now a licensed and qualified therapist is just a click away, no matter where they are physically located — interested in finding out more about how you can enjoy a safe and convenient counseling session from the comfort of your own couch? Keep reading!
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What Is Online Counseling?
Online counseling is exactly what it sounds like: virtual therapy sessions. Some other names may include online therapy, e-therapy, e-counseling, teletherapy, telehealth and cyber-counseling but they all mean the same thing: mental health services and support provided via the internet. These sessions can consist of family therapy, couples therapy, anger management or just traditional counseling services. The sessions can occur in real-time via video calls or phone conversations or time delays such as text messages or emails. The sessions’ frequency and nature may change, but the one thing that stays the same is having easy and convenient access to a personal therapist.
A Brief History of Online Counseling
Distant communications between a patient and mental health professional is hardly a new concept. The legendary Sigmund Freud would frequently communicate with his clients via letters in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
As far as using the internet as a therapeutic option — this wouldn’t become a viable option until 1982 when self-help groups and forums began to emerge. From there the growth in online counseling options has continued to rise dramatically and eventually led to the creation of the International Society for Mental Health Online in 1997. Over time, there have been lots of websites popping up offering ranges of options and price points. With smartphones becoming standard, even mobile counseling apps are available. Currently, there is no shortage of potential options for online counseling.
What Are Some of the Benefits of Online Counseling?
There have been several reasons for the incredible rise in popularity of online counseling over the years. One of the clearest reasons is how the modern world operates. Almost everything that people do in their lives today is either directly related to or heavily influenced by the internet, and therapy is no different. Here is a list of some of the most common reasons people are turning toward online counseling over the traditional in-person options:
- Convenience: Probably the most common reason for people switching to online therapy is the overall convenience of it. In the old days, a person would have to find a mental health counselor nearby, schedule an appointment (usually during the workweek), and physically drive to see a therapist, which can be a difficult and draining task in itself if you live in a busy location such as New York. Online counseling with a licensed therapist removes almost all of those headaches. A quick search on the internet will bring back tons of potential therapists and options with years of experience, and signing up for a session takes just minutes. Once the therapist and session are booked, then the drive downtown becomes firing up a desktop or laptop computer and signing in.
- Easier access: For many people living in rural or remote areas, the idea of mental health counseling is a pretty unrealistic goal. There may be very few, if any, options for quality therapists or clinical psychologists, and due to scarcity, they may be booked for quite a while. People living in a situation like these may have to travel hours in order to see a therapist in person, which will make it much harder to maintain sessions or get them started in the first place. If you are going for couples counseling for relationship issues then the problem gets worsened as two people need to travel to the same place. Additionally, people with poor mobility or limited access to transportation would have a hard time making sessions regardless of proximity. Online therapy brings the option to anyone with an internet connection.
- Cost: One of the first excuses used for someone when they refuse the idea of therapy is cost. Although perhaps not as expensive as the myths would have you believe, therapy will still cost money even with good health care. A therapist will have to operate an office — usually in a downtown metropolitan area that will require rent, utilities, and paid staff. These expenditures can be extremely expensive depending on location, and unfortunately, the customer is going to have to help pay the bills. However, online counseling has no need for any of these things as therapists can work from the comfort of their own homes. No rent, utilities, or staff would mean they would save a lot of money each month and would be able to charge much less to their clients.
- Consistency: Making every single appointment can be a challenge for both therapist and client alike. Sickness, weather, and car trouble are all frequent issues that can pop up and cause a delay or cancellation for a session. Most therapists have operation hours during the workweek, so most individuals seeking treatment will have to use personal time or vacation to get off work. That alone can lead to several missed appointments. With online counseling, it’s much easier for both the therapist and the client to maintain appointments, and consistency can go a long way to helping identify and repair mental health issues faster.
- Better access: When it comes to mental health, different specialists are trained in highly specific areas to deal with detailed issues. In-person therapy could mean not having access to a specialist that’s an expert in your specific needs. You wouldn’t want to see a dermatologist if you were suffering from back pain, would you? So why treat mental health issues any different? Online therapy brings the option of finding the specific type of therapist that you need instead of hoping the one near you has what you’re looking for.
- Comfort: Going to a therapist’s office can be quite a tense and anxiety-inducing experience. It’s hard not to feel a little overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation when taking your first seat on the famous therapist’s couch. Online therapy brings the office to you and allows you to be in your most comfortable places. Whether it’s the couch in your living room, the desk in your office, or even outside in the backyard, your sessions can take place where you are most comfortable, as long as you have a steady internet connection.
- Safety: COVID-19 has forever impacted the way that humans interact with each other on a daily basis. It’s likely that social distancing and quarantine orders are going to be a thing for at least the foreseeable future, and safety should be a priority for everyone during this time. By not having to attend in-person sessions, there is a 0% chance of anyone transmitting any kind of contagion. This is especially good for family conflicts when meeting with a family therapist to keep everyone from having to travel. Online therapy also eliminates the chances of automobile accidents as well. There really is no safer option than online.
- Stigma: Unfortunately, the stigma of therapy still persists in today’s society. Although feelings are changing and the world is starting to see therapy as the great benefit that it is, there are still those that feel uncomfortable being seen in a therapist’s waiting room or couples who are uncomfortbale going to a couples counselor. Online counseling removes any possibility of that as the sessions are conducted from the privacy of one’s own home.
Potential Drawbacks og Online Counseling
As with everything in life, there are a few potential issues with online counseling. Although most could barely be classified as annoyances, they are still worth addressing.
Some of the more common issues are:
- Insurance: Many insurance companies already lack in providing insurance for in-person therapy and are woefully benefit from plans that include online mental health services and substance abuse programs. It’s worth looking into what your plan offers when considering online options.
- Distractions: Part of the comfort and convenience of being at home can also be a problem with all the stressors that surround you. Between children, pets, or other people in the home, having a quality therapy session could be a bit of a challenge that will require effort to overcome.
- Body language: Subtle cues through body language are a great indicator for a therapist to learn about their patients without them having to talk. One of the drawbacks of having a session through a screen is the increased difficulty, or outright loss, of being able to read body language.
- Technological issues: Network connectivity issues can cause delays and interruptions during a session that can disturb progress and end the session early. Also, since information is being transmitted online, there is a very small chance that privacy leaks or hacks could happen.
The benefits of online therapy far outweigh the downsides. In many ways, it is a superior option to in-person therapy — especially in today’s modern world. Online counseling should be the first option for anyone looking to improve their mental health and work on their coping skills. If you know of anyone who suffers from anxiety disorder, a eating disorder, PTSD or any other form of mental illness it might be a good idea to recommend them for online psychotherapy.
Having a qualified and highly educated therapist with a masters degree or PSYD to talk to is something that just about everyone needs from time to time. But finding time for scheduled appointments and maintaining consistency can be difficult in such a busy modern world. With online therapy, all of those problems are easily fixed. For many people, online counseling proves to be the most convenient option of all!