When you’re stressed, text a therapist. You can video chat with a psychologist from the comfort of your own home.
Teletherapy, or any therapy that takes place outside of the usual office environment, has been around for decades, but new apps have generated new concerns. Do the various online counseling platforms function as well as traditional talk therapy? Or are they overlooking something critical?
In 2015, I was questioning the same questions. I’d just lost my mother to cancer, and I needed support but couldn’t locate a suitable therapist in my region. I enrolled in an online treatment program and spoke with a therapist via the app’s chat system for slightly over a month. It felt like a gamble at the time: was internet counseling a legitimate option, or just a millennial-inspired business model bound to fail?
The good news is that these apps aren’t new, and research and experts have had time to debate whether internet therapy is worthwhile to prescribe. Here’s what you need to know about whether online counseling works.
The Advantages of Online Therapy
The majority of the obvious advantages of internet counseling are related to convenience. According to Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a certified clinical psychologist in New York City and the founder and clinical director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services, P.C.
Among the advantages are:
- Therapists are readily available, and no travel is required.
- It may be less expensive (a regular therapy session costs $30-$250 per session, depending on where you live and whether your insurance covers it; apps like BetterHelp and TalkSpace start at $40 and $65 per week, respectively).
Some people may choose to communicate online.
According to Dr. Seth Feuerstein, MD, JD, a lecturer and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University, online therapy is merely another kind of communication—the foundation of all excellent medical and mental health care. “Obviously, communication has altered over time as technology has changed,” he explains. “There’s a lot of very excellent data that shows that digitally enabled contact between physicians and patients may be just as effective as traditional methods.”
A 2018 meta-analysis of 64 trials published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders indicated that online cognitive behavioral therapy was beneficial for major depression, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and general anxiety disorder.
Dr. Feuerstein further points out that many patients have previously been unable to obtain quality care. This could be due to patients’ anxiety about scheduling in-person sessions, or it could be due to simply practical reasons: therapist schedules in their region are full, or it’s tough to coordinate with their job schedule. “If you’re an hourly worker and you need to take a couple hours out from work every week to go visit a therapist because it’s in office, there’s a good possibility you’ll never get access to any therapy,” he adds.