Have you ever thought about seeing a therapist and turned down the idea because you couldn’t find a therapist you liked closeby, or the therapist didn’t have hours that matched with your schedule? Maybe you’re intrigued by the idea of online counseling and don’t know where to start. Ads for online counseling services are popping up everywhere lately, touting the benefits of using technology to provide a service that is usually linked to a one-on-one meeting in a private office. What is this all about?
What is online counseling? Most practitioners use this term to mean therapy that consists of mostly or entirely work through live video conferencing, email, texting or instant messaging, real-time chat, or phone service over the internet. For this post, I’m using the word online counseling to describe using a video service to connect and have sessions with a therapist who is not physically present.
What are some of the reasons people use online counseling? People utilize online therapy for a wide variety of reasons.
- Some people may live in isolated areas where there are not many therapists to choose from.
- Others have chronic illnesses, which can make it difficult to physically get outside of the house.
- Online therapy is useful for those who don’t have readily accessible transportation.
- Caregivers for children and the sick/elderly find that online therapy is very convenient.
What are some of the benefits of online therapy? There are many, which makes it easy to understand why the field of online counseling is rapidly growing all over the world.
- Comfort: I have had clients tell me that they find it easier to open up when they’re sitting comfortably in their own space. They can have therapy in their pajamas and slippers if they wish, or curled up on their couch with their dog and a cup of tea.
- Time: Saving time is a big benefit of online counseling. You don’t have to spend time in traffic driving to an office which may or may not be close to where you live or work. It’s very possible to fit in a 45-minute video session during a 60-minute lunch.
- Discreet: Unfortunately, the stigma for psychotherapy is still out there. Some people don’t want to have to explain to their boss or coworkers or kids that they’re seeing a therapist. Being able to have a session online solves that problem.
- Clients who are extremely shy/anxious. Clients appreciate the semi-anonymity of online counseling. People who struggle with anxiety have told me that they were able to open up easier because they did not have to be with their therapist in person. Sometimes things are easier said online. Think of how much the people on your social networks or chat rooms know about you and how easy it can be to be open with someone who is not physically present.
So what about the concerns? Online therapy isn’t for everyone. Here are some contraindicators for online counseling. If you are actively suicidal, having a therapist who is physically present is crucial for that higher level of support needed. Not having a secure, strong internet connection during your session can lead to technical problems. If you’re being abused by someone, online therapy could open the door for your abuser to listen in or threaten you during your session, so this is another time when therapy is best done in person. If you have any concerns if online therapy is right for you, discuss your thoughts and concerns with the therapist you’re interviewing.
How do I find an online counselor? There are several companies that provide online therapy utilizing a ‘membership’ type style where you pay a fee and get access (often unlimited) to a therapist of your choosing for a set period of time, usually a month. But if you look, you’ll find that many therapists who have a brick-and-mortar office offer online services as well. If you’re seeing a therapist in person, you might want to ask if this is something they provide or are willing to look into.
What to look for in an online counselor: It can be overwhelming looking for an online therapist. In the United States where I practice, each state has one or more regulatory boards that provide laws and guidance regarding how a therapist or counselor can work online. For most states, and in my own state of Ohio, the therapist must be licensed in the state where you, the client, lives. So I can’t legally and ethically provide therapy for someone in California but can for anyone anywhere in Ohio. The laws are constantly changing, though, so keep an eye on it. Of course, it’s your therapist’s job to ensure that they are legally allowed to treat you.
- Check their license. Ask them where they are licensed, and go to that board’s website to verify their credentials. This is also the way you can check and see if there have been any restrictions placed on the therapist.
- What platform are they using? Is it HIPAA compliant, meaning, is the information that is transmitted securely? You want to make sure your privacy is a priority.
- Does your therapist have expertise in the areas you are looking for help with?
- Do you feel a connection with them? Warmth and sincerity can be displayed through a video screen as well as in the tone of voice.
- How are the sessions set up? Is it the traditional weekly 45-50 minute therapy ‘hour’ appointment?
- Are you able to reach the therapist outside of your scheduled time slot?
The world of online therapy is exploding. Many insurance companies are even covering it. The more online therapy I provide, the more I realize that it can be a very helpful way of connecting with and helping people that I normally would not be able to reach.
If you’ve used online therapy, what has been your experience?