Online counseling—or maybe you know it as teletherapy, e-counseling, or cyber-counseling—challenges the traditional therapy model, being that sessions are held online via video, phone call, or chat widget. That being said, it isn’t a completely new idea… but it’s certainly picked up speed and increased in popularity.
The concept of online therapy developed as early as the 1980s, with the launch of “Ask Uncle Ezra,” a mental health counseling service created by staff for students at Cornell University. And within the next five or so years, several other online therapy services had emerged, too—but today, there are a plethora. As people are beginning to acknowledge and capitalize on the many benefits and advantages of online counseling that you don’t always get with the traditional model, such as greater convenience, comfort, and flexibility. But which is better? This is online therapy vs. traditional therapy.
Potential Cons of Online Therapy and Traditional, In-Person Counseling
First, you might have to give a little… while online counseling can be a great alternative to the traditional experience, its success relies on a few essentials, such as your cooperation and devotion. Second: reliable internet connection. Licensed Clinical Social Worker Michele Quintin, who offers secure online counseling, is here to discuss these elements. To kick off this online therapy vs. traditional therapy battle, let’s go over the cons and requirements of online counseling:
- Cooperation and devotion. Quintin emphasizes the importance of securing a quiet place to talk, free from distractions. “You still want confidentiality and a dedicated time and space to meet, so trying to chase after a toddler or connecting in a public space aren’t going to work. Consider using headphones to improve both confidentiality and sound quality,” she suggests.
- Reliable internet connection. Again, another necessity is that you’re able to actually attend your online sessions, which means hi-speed internet connection on a computer. “Many of us are used to using Skype or FaceTime for video chat, but online counseling requires using a secure platform,” she explains. “The platform I use is VSee. VSee is free, but you do need to install the program.” If, however, your Internet does fail, there’s a simple backup plan: turn the video chat into a phone call instead.
There are, of course, some drawbacks to in-person counseling as well. For example, you often have to jump through many hoops to successfully make it to a session. Here are cons and requirements of in-person therapy:
- Overcome uncertainty. Some feel embarrassed or apprehensive about meeting with a counselor. They worry what other people will think, such as loved ones and people in their community. This shame and uncertainty can get in their way of making it to their session, as they have to first schedule the service and then follow through on attending their session, which is often weeks later, giving them more time to harbor doubts.
- Put aside time to make it to therapy. A lot of individuals find that it’s hard to schedule a therapy session at a time that is convenient for them. They either can’t take off of work to make it to a daytime appointment or they don’t want to spend the time they do have off of work driving to therapy. (Online counseling makes therapy easy and convenient).
Rewards of Taking the Online Therapy Route
Now that you understand the very minimal requirements for pursuing and succeeding in online therapy versus the potentially more difficult obstacles for in-person counseling, we get to talk about the good stuff! In the online therapy vs. traditional therapy battle, let’s focus on the positives of the former. Here are four advantages of online therapy that Quintin says you just can’t beat:
1) Greater selection of therapists.
First, you get to select from a bigger pool of counselors, which enables you to find the one best suited for your needs—not to mention one you actually like! “By not limiting yourself to your immediate geographic area, you can choose from licensed therapists all across your state (in the U.S.), or even internationally,” Quintin explains. “The importance of finding the best therapeutic fit cannot be overstated. Study after study shows that the factor that matters most in determining therapeutic success is finding a therapist you like and trust, so it is a great advantage to be able to cast a wide net.”
2) Scheduling flexibility.
Another advantage with online counseling is the flexibility that comes with scheduling/attending sessions. “I once missed (and still had to pay for) an entire therapy session because there was an accident on the highway. Online counseling eliminates this worry,” says Quintin. “Babysitter cancelled and your child is old enough to entertain themselves, but too young to stay home alone? Have a head cold and don’t want to infect others, but still want to keep your appointment? No problem!”
3) Maintaining healthy boundaries.
Online counseling also further ensures that boundaries aren’t crossed in your client-counselor relationship, says Quintin: “In counseling, a dual relationship refers to having any other relationship (personal, business, etc.) with your therapist outside of your therapeutic relationship, or your therapist having close relationships with your immediate family members. Naturally, this is problematic and to be avoided if possible. In rural areas or small towns, however, dual relationships can be almost inevitable, and even larger cities can be smaller than you think. Teletherapy can eliminate these concerns.”
4) Opportunity to bridge distances.
And lastly, another great advantage of online counseling is that it allows you to participate in couples/family counseling across distances—a problem many face with the traditional therapy model. “Trying to schedule couples or family counseling can be so challenging, especially if one or more people in the group travel,” Quintin explains. “Online counseling is a great option to bridge distances and help maintain regular therapeutic sessions.”