What is Online Therapy?

Times are changing and so is therapy. It used to be that clients had to take a couple of hours out of their busy day to fit in a trip to the therapist. But today, with advances in online communication and security, a whole new way of getting help has become available.  Learn more about the world of online therapy and what it can do to help you become a better you.

What is Online Therapy?

Online therapy, also known as telepsychology, telemental health, internet therapy, or online-counseling,  is a growing trend in the behavioral health world. Through online therapy, mental health providers are able to work with clients using therapeutic interventions over the internet. Online therapy can be offered via video, telephone, and texting. This new therapy platform is becoming more popular because it offers the same benefits of traditional therapy while adding in the convenience factor.

Benefits of Online Therapy

Online Therapy

There are many benefits to online therapy which explains why this is a rapidly growing platform among consumers.  When it comes to therapy it is easy to come up with reasons to not to seek help. The most common reasons include not having enough time, the stigma associated with therapy, the cost to see a therapist, and not being able to find the right therapist. Online therapy solves these problems and makes accessing a therapist as easy as logging onto your computer or phone. The convenience factor is huge when it comes to online therapy.

Convenience

The most common reason for not seeking therapy is time. People are busy, life happens, and when you add additional stressors, therapy is unfortunately not a priority. Online therapy eliminates the hassle of traveling to an office because it is available wherever you are on your phone or computer.  Beyond that, you are far more likely to be able to find a therapist after hours through an online platform, meaning you can make it to your appointments without missing work or school.  Best of all, you can attend sessions from the comfort of your own home.

No Stigma

When it comes to medical diagnoses people never question when a person needs to go to the doctor. Unfortunately, when it comes to mental health, there is still a lot of stigma associated with therapy.  Because of this stigma, people are often worried about seeking therapy in an office setting for fear they may run into someone they know.  Online therapy helps solve this problem. You can privately have a session with your therapist without leaving your couch or wherever you feel most comfortable. No more worrying about running into a coworker or friend while walking into the therapist’s office.

Selection

Many people complain that they have a hard time finding the right person that fits what they need from a therapist.  This process could be compared to dating, since you may have to see a few therapists before you find the most compatible one.  When it comes to online therapy, you can quickly scan the provider’s bios, see their pictures, professional experience, and reviews. With all of this information at your fingertips, you can more easily find the best therapist for you.  Even better, there is a wider selection available because you aren’t restricted to searching for providers within driving distance.

Options

Another great benefit of online therapy is that there are so many more options available.  You are no longer restricted to distance or stuck with your health insurance provider’s coverage. You can select the option that best fits your needs.  Online therapy offers a vast range of therapy options including:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Couples therapy
  • Even peer support groups!

This broadens your selection and allows you access to many different options you might not have through traditional therapy. More options mean more opportunities to find the right therapist and the right help for you.

Could I Benefit From Therapy?

Types of Online Therapy and Counseling

There are many different types of online counseling available, including email, telephone calls, chat rooms, video conferencing, and texting. All of these offer similar benefits, but the best-proven option is currently to use video sessions.

Video Sessions

Video counseling has proven to be the most effective form of online therapy because it provides a similar experience to traditional therapy while taking out the inconveniences associated with in-office treatment. There have been many studies that show video counseling is extremely beneficial for clients.  Therapists are able to build the same relationship with you as if you were in their office.

The most important part of therapy is empathy and understanding non-verbal cues, and video conferencing works great for this as well.   You can still have that personal connection of seeing and interacting with your therapist as if they were in the same room, but now in your own comfortable space using the internet for your session.

Teletherapy

Phone or audio only is another popular option for online therapy. This gives many of the same benefits as video conferencing but without the option to see the other person. Although still effective, teletherapy is missing the face to face interaction that you want when seeking therapy. One strategy some therapists use is to supplement video-conferencing with teletherapy. If you usually do video sessions with your therapist and find yourself going out of town and leaving wifi behind, a teletherapy session is a great way to bridge the gap. That way you don’t have to miss out on taking care of you.

Texting Therapy

Another option that is available to clients is texting therapy. While it has the convenience factor, it is considered less effective as a stand-alone method. Texting loses some of the most personal parts of communication. It may be a fast, easy option but is probably not be the best method of therapy. Your therapist uses many different methods when working with you to understand you and the challenges you face. Texting is often very impersonal and can at times even make things worse, especially if you face problems like social anxiety.

Texting Therapy

Video conferencing has proven to be the most effective form of online therapy because it can function in almost all of the same ways as traditional therapy. Texting therapy has a much smaller research foundation, and much of its value is unproven so far. In fact, there is only one study supporting the effectiveness of texting therapy as a stand-alone treatment method, published on a commercial website by just a single researcher. So while this is becoming a more common method, it’s important to understand the risks.

Styles of therapy

There are many different approaches to therapy. A therapist typically has one style they like to utilize throughout their practice.  During your first conversation, it can be helpful to ask your therapist what their style of therapy is and decide if that style will work for you.   A good fit is easier to achieve if you know a little more about what might work best for your situation.  Just like there are specialties in medicine for treating certain kinds of physical problems, there are specialties in therapy for resolving certain kinds of life problems. If the style doesn’t fit quite right, most therapists will be happy to help you find someone who does. Here are some of the more common styles you’ll see.

CBT

CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, is a  very common form of therapy used to treat a broad range of concerns. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be beneficial with many challenges such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders as well as problems like tough relationships, bad sleep, and loss.  CBT is a problem-focused therapy, which means it looks at the specific problem that you’re facing and then helps find and use new coping skills to help with that problem.  Research has shown that CBT can lead to significant improvements in coping and quality of life and can lead to change in your life.

Psychodynamic

Psychodynamic therapy is a close cousin to the old method of psychoanalysis. It works by helping to interpret the subconscious workings of your mind. A psychodynamic therapist will help you to go through some of the more important events in your life, and see how these shape the challenges you face today.  The goal is to use this information to uncover the workings of your unconscious mind and to see the things that might have slipped by you. Psychodynamic therapy can be great for you if you’re looking to understand yourself more deeply and face challenges that seem unending or insurmountable.

Person-Centered

Person-centered therapy is almost exactly what it sounds like. The therapist’s goal is to help you find your own direction and solutions to your problems throughout therapy. The relationship between you and your therapist is key to this process and is actually used to help you heal and grow.  Here, your therapist will work as a guide or a coach, and you will face your challenges as a team. Through a process of listening, empathy, and feedback, a person-centered therapist puts you in the driver’s seat.  By meeting you as an equal, your therapist helps you regain autonomy and control and helps you to overcome your problems. You have choices and together with your therapist, you can guide the direction of your own therapy.

What Can Online Therapy Help With?

Online therapy can be used to treat all different kinds of problems ranging from anxiety and depression to relationship issues and work-related stress. Online therapy has proven to be just as beneficial if not more so than traditional face to face. Some studies even indicate people are more satisfied with online therapy.  So online therapy not only offers all of the same benefits of traditional therapy, it also offers greater convenience and flexibility

It’s important to remember though that online therapy is not necessarily a complete replacement for traditional therapy. Individuals suffering from more severe disorders or who experience frequent thoughts of self-harm or suicide may not be well suited for this type of therapy.

However, as time goes on, major hospital networks and other healthcare providers are beginning to integrate online capabilities into the physical healthcare environment, allowing them to consult with experts in rural areas or areas where there simply are not enough therapists to fully meet demand. Combined with the physical presence of healthcare staff, online therapy is making headway in helping to solve even some of the most severe mental health problems and emergencies.

Online TherapyFinding the Right Platform

There are many options available to you when looking for an online therapist. Therapy delivery systems you may encounter can be divided into three basic categories: networks, platforms, and individual practices.

Networks for online therapy are similar to the networks you might find through your insurance company or local hospital group. Therapists are employed by the network, with standardized intake forms, scheduling formats, and billing. The network handles the majority of the administrative work, up to and sometimes including the assignment of clients to therapists. Networks tend to have the least amount of flexibility.

Platforms work a bit differently. Similar to companies like Uber and AirBnB, online therapy platforms work as a kind of marketplace for connecting clients and therapists. You can go to these sites and look through therapists bios and ratings, allowing you to find the person who will be the best fit for you. Like networks, platforms generally have a standardized intake process and billing system but allow the therapists and clients much greater flexibility in scheduling and the types of therapy available. This model also allows therapists to provide their services at much lower rates than those found in traditional therapy practices or networks.

Individual practices are built and owned by the therapist themselves and are not connected to other platforms or networks. Many therapists offer services online as an outgrowth of their traditional practices. Typically these practices will use Skype or other sites to facilitate therapy. Because the therapist runs the operation themselves, there tend to be higher rates involved. The upside is that therapists can also provide there services in virtually any way mutually agreed upon with their clients.

Ethics of Online Therapy and Counseling

Anyone practicing online therapy is bound by the same code of ethics as traditional therapy.  No matter where a therapist has their practice in they must adhere to the same standards dictated by their state licensing authority, as well as the standards set by their professional organizations. Your therapist should be able to show you and help you to understand their credentials at any time.

Online Therapist Code of Ethics

Telemental health services are held to the same standard as in-person therapy. All the same state regulations, rules, and code of ethics apply no matter what platform of therapy is being used.  Your therapist is responsible for understanding every aspect of using online services, as well as for ensuring your safety and the security of your information.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality is always protected no matter how you get your therapy services.  Online therapy is no exception. One thing to remember, however, is that the online therapy can suffer from the same vulnerabilities as the rest of the internet. Hackers and malware happen.  Your therapist should make every reasonable effort to protect and maintain the confidentiality of your information. Your therapist also needs to keep you informed about the potential risks to privacy of using online services. You can do your part as well by making sure you use trusted internet connections and keep your security software up to date.

Safety

While most information in therapy must legally be kept confidential, there are a small number of exceptions. If the therapist believes there is an immediate danger of serious self-harm or suicide, confidentiality may be broken for the purposes of informing emergency healthcare services. Therapists are also required by law to report incidents of child abuse or abuse of the elderly. Finally, in some states, therapists have a legal “duty to warn.” This means they are required to contact others if a client shows a serious intent to harm another person. Though these exceptions are fairly uncommon, you therapist will cover them in detail during your first meeting.

Online Therapy

Referrals

Sometimes a therapist is just not able to provide the right services. This can be for many reasons, from a bad fit in the therapeutic relationship to the need for a higher level of care. In any case, your therapist should always be able to evaluate the situation and ensure that they can make the right referrals if you need a change or more care than they can provide.

Honest Representation

Therapists are required by law to tell the truth and give an accurate account of the care they can provide. That means they should hold an active state license in their specialty, and be able to show proof upon request. It’s important to ask for and be clear about what your therapist can do before beginning therapy. Every state also has a website where you can check out your therapist by name or license number. this can also help you figure out if someone is the right therapist for you.

Security and Privacy in Online Therapy

One of the major concerns with the internet is always security. This concern is even more important if you’re using the internet to obtain healthcare services. While most providers will make every effort to keep your information confidential, there may still be some small amount of risk to your privacy. To help mitigate these risks, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Telemedicine Association have published guidelines for online therapy providers to follow. Here are some things look for to help guard against data breach.

HIPAA and Compliance

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is the primary federal law protecting the privacy of healthcare information. Later legislation has supplemented and helped extend those guidelines into the online space. Therapists are required to follow these laws in protecting your information.

In addition, there are further laws that govern the protection of therapy notes and substance abuse treatment specifically, making it some of the most carefully protected information out there. Other than the previously mentioned exceptions, the only other way to legally obtain your records would be by court order.

With the legal bar set so high, providers are very careful to maintain compliance. Many organizations use third-party automated auditing services to help meet these standards, in addition to mandated regular training for providers. Compliance information should be easily found on the home page of any site you choose to use for your therapy.

Encryption

Beyond standard HIPAA compliance, many organizations are now also adding encryption to their communication systems. Encryption is basically a way of scrambling a signal, making it unreadable to anyone but the sender and the recipient. While there are many different ways of encrypting data, they all share the basic advantage of making it nearly impossible for messages to be intercepted and deciphered by a third party. This protects you because it means that what is said between you and your therapist stays between you and your therapist.

Server Security

Server security is another important part of secure online therapy. Servers are traffic management systems, directing all of the different messages and work that may be going through a particular online system. They can also store information, and so protecting them is a high priority for any online company. The level of server security can be a bit tougher to find out, but there should be at least a brief statement on your therapist’s site. If a third party is used to provide security, that information should also be available.

Medical Records

Medical records are the primary target of HIPAA. If your therapist is following all of the guidelines mentioned here, then your medical records should be safe and secure.

What You Can Do

Most elements of security discussed so far have had to do with your therapist’s role. But you have a part to play, too. Keeping up to date with your operating system and antivirus software should help keep your information safe from prying eyes. Also, be sure to use unique passwords for your accounts and be careful not to share your login information.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is online therapy legitimate?

Online therapy is very legitimate. Online therapists are held to the same standard as any other therapy professional. The same licensures, privacy rules, and ethics all apply whether therapy is provided in an office, over the phone, or through video conference. Therapists should have their state-issued credentials readily available. If not, it’s usually better to move on to someone else.

Is online therapy covered by insurance?

Coverage can vary. There are some plans that are offer coverage for online therapy through video conferencing. Phone/text therapy is not something covered by health plans. It is best to check with your insurance carrier directly to find out more about your benefits.

How effective is online therapy?

Online therapy has proven to be very effective, especially video therapy. The benefits of online therapy are well researched and documented. Of all the telemental health options available, video therapy is generally very secure and proven to be the most effective.

Is online therapy expensive?

Pricing will vary depending on a number of factors. The cost will depend on what style of services you’re looking for and what platform the therapist is connected to. Some sites offer subscription style services, while others bill by the therapy hour.  In general, however, online therapy tends to be much more affordable than traditional therapy.

The Growth of Online Counseling

The internet has massively transformed the world around us since it’s arrival. Now it’s transforming the way we reach out to each other and get help. Online therapy is a new way of getting the help you’ve always wanted but didn’t know how to get. Therapy has been changing lives for decades, and now it’s here in a way that anyone can reach for.

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