Online counseling, or web therapy as some call it, is done via video conference, telephone, or chat/email. It’s a great alternative to the traditional therapy model, in which you meet with your counselor face to face in a clinical office—and comes with a ton of perks: not only is it exceedingly convenient, but it offers clients a great degree of comfort. That being said, online counseling is effective for some but not others. In consideration of this, ask yourself the following before scheduling your appointment or setting anything in stone to see if online counseling is the best option for you:
1. Is online therapy the best treatment option for me?
Take a moment to reflect on everything you know about therapy, and then decide honestly if online counseling will benefit you. Consider other treatment options too, like the traditional in-person model of therapy. Maybe you’d do better meeting face to face with your counselor; or, maybe the issue your presenting requires something like EMDR, which can’t be conducted via video chat or phone call. I know this is a lot to think about, but don’t worry—a mental health professional can help determine whether online counseling is effective (or will prove effective) for you. In fact, according to Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Family Wellness Expert Alicia Hyatte, “practitioners should evaluate each client for appropriateness of this method of intervention because, as with every intervention or modality, online counseling should be used as part of an individualized and client-centered treatment plan.”
2. Does the therapist have the correct licensing and expertise?
Anyone can claim to be a therapist or counselor—you need to protect yourself by ensuring they have the licensing and expertise to back that claim up. According to Licensed Clinical Social Worker Michele Quintin, “in the United States of America, licensed therapists are restricted to practicing only in the states they are licensed in.” She goes on to explain that she is licensed in Texas and can’t work with clients outside of state lines—although she can work with clients internationally. So, in sum, you need to make sure you’re working with a professional who is licensed in your state for online counseling to be effective. Doing so can be tricky, but most states do keep an online directory of their licensed professionals, which you can easily refer to. Additionally, you should do some further investigation into the therapist you’re considering to see if they have the correct expertise to help you with your particular issue. For example, if you’re recovering from a drug addiction, you should work with a substance abuse counselor. Similarly, if you’re healing from a traumatic event, it’d be best to work with a grief counselor. In summary, you can better ensure that online counseling is effective if your online counselor specializes in helping clients with the issue that you are presenting.
3. Do I like, trust, and connect with this counselor?
While the first matter of business is ensuring the counselor is truly a licensed professional, it’s also important to consider whether they’re the right fit for you. Do you genuinely like them? Do you feel like you can trust and open up to them? And, perhaps most importantly, do you feel like you can connect with the counselor? It’ll be difficult to establish a meaningful bond and build on your therapeutic relationship if that connection isn’t there. That being said, it’s not the end of the world if that proves to be the case. One of the perks of online counseling is that you have a wide variety of counselors to choose from—not just the two or three in your area. So, if you just aren’t feeling right about one counselor, that’s okay. Do some more research and explore your other options! This flexibility makes online counseling effective in many cases.
4. Is this a safe space?
One final important consideration: can the counselor guarantee you’re in a safe space where your information will remain confidential? This is easier to guarantee in a clinical office, but the virtual world is a whole new ballgame. That being said, measures can and should be taken to keep your information and experience in therapy private: ensure the site or app that you use is an HIPAA-compliant. According to Licensed Professional Counselor Kailee Place, “there are tons of secure, HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platforms available for therapists to use when providing these services.”