The Advantages and Disadvantages Of Online Therapy
Modern day mental health treatments date back little more than a century. Whereas the medical field has been developing for thousands of years, until the 1900s, mental illness was mostly misunderstood. Depression was seen as more of a spiritual ailment. Addiction was seen as a moral failing.
The field of mental health treatment has come a long way since the days of Freud and his disciples. However, in our technological age, practitioners have been strangely resistant. Professionals have largely shown skepticism over the use of technology in treating mental illness, sticking to traditional means.
But that is changing. More and more tech startups are taking on mental illness. VR headsets have been designed to treat PTSD using exposure therapy. There are mobile games that help people with anxiety challenge themselves and their negative self-talk.
And then there’s online therapy. Online therapy is fast becoming a major industry, with websites such as BetterHelp and ThriveTalk providing platforms that facilitate everything from text therapy to video therapy.
Not everyone is convinced that online therapy can live up to the standards of traditional therapy, and they have good reasons for this. On the other hand, there are distinct advantages to online therapy.
Let’s take a look at the advantages, before discussing the potential complications.
Pro: Less Time-Consuming
If you work a full-time job, therapy may be a luxury out of your reach. Most therapists work office hours, and unless you find someone with offices very close by or who works after-hours, you will struggle to find the time. Even if they do work after-hours, this takes away from time you could be spending with your family.
Online therapy, on the other hand, does not need to take up any more time than the length of the actual session. If you can take a 50 minute lunch-break, you can get in a 50 minute session, without worrying about travel time. Online therapists are also more likely to facilitate shorter sessions. They may be willing to schedule in a 30 minute session if you don’t have time for more.
Some online therapy platforms offer text-based therapy, which does not require you to commit to a lengthy session at all.
Online therapy makes therapy accessible to those without the time to see a therapist in person. No matter its disadvantages, it is certainly better than not getting help at all.
Pro: No One Needs Know
Not everyone understands what therapy is, and there is still a stigma around it in some circles. For this reason, many people are reluctant to take time off work to see a therapist for fear of being asked where they are going. They also fear that someone may see them walking into a therapist’s office.
With online therapy, you can remain in your office or home the whole time. There is less chance of anyone finding out that you are seeing a therapist.
While there should no longer be a stigma associated with therapy, the fact is that for some people that stigma is very real. Online therapy is extremely helpful in this sense.
Pro: It Resembles Traditional Therapy
Essentially, online therapy doesn’t have to be any different from traditional therapy. If you are using video chat, you will see your therapist in person and they will see you. They will use the same techniques that they would in their own office.
The online platform doesn’t necessarily take away from this, but simply makes it more accessible. It can even facilitate resources being shared, such as worksheets or helpful mobile apps.
Pro: It Is Cheaper
Online therapy is generally cheaper than traditional therapy. The therapist does not need to pay overheads, and can therefore charge less. They can also provide shorter sessions that can be significantly cheaper.
Many people are put off therapy by the high financial cost. Online therapy goes a long way towards removing this obstacle.
Con: Body Language Matters
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to online therapy is that, in therapy, body language can be even more important than the words spoken. The fact is that body language does not really come across over video chat. In all likelihood, your therapist will be able to see your head and shoulders at most. Often, our instinct is to hide our body language as much as we can, which becomes very easy over a video call.
Not only is it possible to inadvertently hide more of yourself, but it is more difficult to create trust and rapport. Opening up and getting to know anyone is easier in person, for most people.
Of course, there are those who will find the medium less stressful, with the distance making it feel safer to share.
Therapists do everything they can to ensure their offices are distraction-free. No one is going to barge in unexpectedly, and outside noises are kept to a minimum. You are expected to keep your phone off or on silent.
In your office or room at home, however, you may have many more distractions. Colleagues, spouses, and children may wander in. Your room may be in a noisy space. And there are distractions of your own. Emails may come in, with notifications appearing on the corner of your screen during your call.
It is the regulation of distractions that makes a therapist’s office so conducive to sharing.
Con: Voice and Text are Second-Best
While online therapy boasts the options of voice and even text chat, these are undeniably not as conducive to therapy. There is no sharing of body language, and in texting there is not even tone of voice to rely on. Things can easily get misinterpreted, undermining the entire process. Many critics claim that texting is more likely to do harm than good. It is not “better than nothing.” There are studies that indicate text therapy may be effective, but they are few and far between, and were paid for by text therapy companies.
When it comes to video and voice therapy, however, online therapy is definitely a helpful addition to mental health treatment options. Tens of millions of people in the US are not receiving any kind of help in treating their mental illness, and online therapy is making treatment so much more accessible.
Online therapy has its advantages and disadvantages, and the jury is still out on text-based therapy, but it is already helping many. Even if it turns out not to be as effective as in-person therapy, it is still an effective option.