When I first started offering online services to clients, it was out of necessity. Initially, I admit that I was skeptical about the effectiveness of e-therapy and my ability to connect to clients in the same way I do in person. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by the many advantages online therapy provides clients, and how effective it has been for my clients over the last five years I have been using it.
Online therapy does feel similar to being with clients in person, and I find it to be just as effective in most cases. There have only been a few times when I felt a client and I couldn’t continue our work together online because I was limited in my ability to perform certain interventions, such as EMDR for trauma history (which I haven’t figured out how to do online at this point). Otherwise, for most cases, online therapy works great for individuals. In fact, there are several studies showing online therapy’s effectiveness. There are even some advantages to working online as opposed to in-person.
ADVANTAGES OF E-COUNSELING
Online Counseling can provide a sense of safety and security for clients because they can stay in the comfort of their own home, car, office, or wherever they feel most secure. This advantage can really help us go deeper in our work in a shorter amount of time than in-person counseling. This may help save clients time and money.
Teletherapy is comfortable, familiar, and convenient to people of all ages. Many younger clients have been using Skype, FaceTime, or other online interfaces for their entire lives and find it familiar and often more comfortable than meeting in-person. Middle-aged and older adults often use technology for business and/or with family members and also find teletherapy familiar and convenient.
Telehealth Therapy can often feel more protected and confidential than in person therapy. There is slight increase in anonymity, possibly making it easier to share. There are no worries about running into someone you might know in the waiting room or in the parking lot. There also isn’t a concern for anyone overhearing your session from neighboring offices or a waiting room.
Distance Counseling helps expand your search radius and gives you more options for finding a therapist with a specific specialization and/or a therapist who is the best fit for your personal needs/wants in therapy. It may be difficult to find someone locally with a certain specialization/expertise (such as sex therapy) or a therapist with whom you feel comfortable and confident. Opening up your search to multiple states/areas may help you find the best match for you.
Telecounseling can save time and money because it eliminates the commute. There is no need for transportation, gas, or parking expenses and hassles.
Online Therapy protects clients from exposure to germs and eliminates the transmission of illnesses. This can be incredibly useful for those with compromised immune systems. I have used technology for several clients in cancer treatments in order to help provide uninterrupted support and care when they were too exhausted to attend in-person. E-therapy helps those who otherwise wouldn’t be able to visit a therapist’s office.
E-counseling reduces missed sessions due to inclement weather and keeps clients safer because there is no need to try and travel when the weather is no cooperating. This can be useful for clients who typically attend sessions in-person, but occasionally aren’t able due to weather conditions.
CHALLENGES OF ONLINE THERAPY
As you can see, there are many benefits to telehealth counseling. I’m certain there are even more benefits than I have listed. However, there are also a few challenges to online therapy.
Online technology can be an issue with a slow or poor connection. Making sure all clients have a fast internet connection is important. Sometimes, there are also issues with online platforms, servers, etc. that are out of our control.
I encourage clients to create a ritual around each and every session because this can make a big difference for creating a structure that is useful and helpful. Lighting a candle before each session or letting it burn throughout, then blowing it out while letting the session go in your mind can provide a firm beginning and end to each meeting. Or, clients could brew a nice cup of tea prior to starting the session and the ritual of making the tea can help provide a safe place-type setting for clients.
Privacy is a key issue for making telecounseling successful. Making sure clients have enough privacy from other family members, children, co-workers, and have proper childcare during session times is key.
Distance counseling is not the right tool for every client in every circumstance. Some people may be helped best by meeting with a therapist in person rather than online, and this can be determined on a case by case basis.
For example, personally I have found online therapy to be less effective for couples’ therapy and do not work with couples online. Couples’ will often wait to start therapy until they are on the brink of divorce (this is a whole different article, and may be in the future). Therefore, I find this work difficult enough in person due to the potential for volatility and escalation within the relationship, making it more challenging to help through online therapy. Technology does not feel as useful in these situations for me, so I limit my online work to individuals at this time.
As you can see, there are many advantages to online counseling, while there are also a few challenges. Thankfully, you get to make the choice that’s right for you. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you’re interested in pursuing distance counseling.
Kimberly Atwood is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist in private practice in Princeton, NJ. She specializes in sexual health, intimacy, relationship issues, and individual E-therapy.