Online Therapy Guide

With one in five American adults suffering from mental health issues, the demand for counseling services is as high as it’s ever been. This has, in part, resulted in the increased popularity of providers offering online therapy, a convenient and affordable option for those who, due to a fear of stigma, lack of access, and time constraints, ordinarily wouldn’t seek help. Prior to the Internet, the only remote option for therapists was over the phone.

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Over the years, online therapy has evolved to offer a variety of services through multiple communication platforms. The very first known service was an online forum in 1986 called, “Dear Uncle Ezra,” out of Cornell University, which was a platform for students to seek help anonymously. As the speed and availability of the Internet increased, the use of online counseling became more widespread. Our guide covers the ins and outs of everything related to online therapy. Keep reading to learn if it’s right for you.

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What Does Research Say About the Effectiveness of Online Therapy?

Research steadily proves that online therapy can be extremely effective in treating a plethora of mental health issues. A 2014 study published by the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that online therapy was as effective as in-person treatment for anxiety and depression. An even more recent study published in the Journal of Psychological Disorders found that online cognitive behavior therapy is also equal to in-person treatment for mental health issues such as major depression, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

A major element determining the effectiveness of psychotherapy is the relationship between patient and therapist. Most online therapy platforms assess each user to ensure each patient is matched with the best therapist for the most effective treatment possible.

Is Online Therapy More Popular Than Traditional Counseling?

As technology advances, and people around the world have greater access to high speed Internet and video chatting capabilities, online therapy is expected to become increasingly popular, though it is still not the preferred format for counseling. While it is not trying to replace in-office therapy, it is still a much more affordable and convenient option for millions of people. If you are on a tight budget, are nervous about in-person therapy, or are limited with time, online therapy can be a great way to get you the help you need and deserve.

Which Communication Options Are Available?

A traditional psychotherapy visit usually involves going to a therapist’s office at a specified time, typically once a week for approximately an hour, to speak face-to-face.

Online therapy offers greater flexibility and increased options. Depending on the therapy platform you choose, there are many more ways to communicate with a therapist. Some platforms allow patients to connect with licensed therapists through text messaging or voice chat, which means you can send messages to your therapist anytime through a their secured platform.

Platforms offering this service usually guarantee a response within 24 hours. Other platforms offer phone or video chat sessions that are scheduled in advance, much like a traditional therapist. It is important to note that not all therapy providers offer all these options. Be sure to pick a provider that you feel will work best for you and your schedule.

What You Should Expect From an Online Therapy Session?

The objective of online therapy is the same as that of traditional in-office therapy: to help you re-frame your current issues while giving you tools to overcome specific life challenges. Online therapy puts the power of mental health treatment in the palm of your hand and enables you to get treatment wherever you are.

From the beginning you can expect to be matched with a therapist using state-of-the-art matching technology, which uses matching algorithms to accurately pair you with a fully-vetted and licensed therapist based on a series of questions you answer. From there, you will start a conversation with your therapist and get to know each other. You will discuss your therapy objectives and set therapy goals.

Be sure to mention any roadblocks (anxiety, depression, etc.) keeping you from enjoying life to the fullest. You may find that creating a list of topics you’d like to discuss helps you and your therapist get a better understanding of the most important areas of your life that you’d like to work on.

What Is the Average Time per Session?

For those seeking individual counseling, an average session is between 50-55 minutes. This is typical in both online and in-person therapy and often referred to as the “therapeutic hour.” You may be wondering, “Why isn’t it 60 full minutes?” Part of the rationale behind the timing is that your online therapist needs time to take notes, jot down their thoughts, and “reset” between clients. Some other forms of therapy, such as couples counseling, may be lengthier (65-80 minutes), but on average, you can expect your sessions to last slightly under an hour.

What Is the Average Cost?

Out-of-pocket expenses for traditional in-person therapy can cost as much as $300 for a 45- minute session. Online therapy is much more affordable depending on the service and level of support you choose. The cost of online therapy is $65 to $100 a week and is usually billed monthly.

How Safe Is Your Private Information?

Just as you fill out paperwork when you go to the doctor’s office for the first time, you can expect to complete paperwork when you sign up for online therapy. All healthcare providers, online therapists included, must follow strict guidelines dictated by federal laws. These are known as Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act¬†or HIPAA guidelines.

In addition, state-level regulations and rules also apply to keep your information safe and your privacy protected. If you are at all worried, before you sign up, make sure the online therapy platform you choose is HIPAA-compliant and ask about the platform’s record-keeping practices. Ideally, all communication and data are encrypted to protect against cyber-attacks.

How Does One Choose From All the Available Options for Online Therapy?

Once you take the first step to starting online therapy, you will need to decide what type of provider you need. For example, there are a variety of specializations that include: couples counseling, LGBTQ-friendly, Christian counselors, post-traumatic stress disorders, and more. There are even options for those seeking therapy providers for their teenaged children.

While the number of private therapists offering therapy online is almost endless, the amount of actual platforms that have their own therapists is much more limited. There are a few well-known providers, and hundreds or smaller, lesser known options. While information on the smaller companies is harder to find, learning about the larger platforms, and comparing brands such BetterHelp and Talkspace is much easier. They tend to make their pricing, features and therapist qualifications known to the public on their own websites as well as industry and news publications like this one.

Regardless of your preference, once you have a sense of what you need, the next step is seeking out references from people you trust or reading independent reviews. Finally, you’ll need to set your first appointment to get a sense of your chemistry with the therapist, and if it feels right, you can set a follow-up appointment. If it doesn’t, seek out someone else.

In Summary

If you’re seeking help to better your mental health, professional online therapy may be the best option for you. While it may not be right for everyone, it certainly does have enough benefits to warrant the consideration of anyone in need of counseling.

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