What is Online Therapy?
Online therapy, commonly referred to as teletherapy, online counseling, or virtual therapy, has evolved over time to mean different things. Whereas once all forms of healthcare treatment provided over the Internet were considered online therapy, the term currently refers specifically to psychotherapy treatment conducted by mental health professionals over the internet. The mediums through which treatment is delivered include video conferencing, live chat, private message boards, text messaging, phone calls, and audio messages. The treatments themselves involve the same techniques and therapy modalities one might encounter with an in-person therapist.
How Much Does Online Therapy Cost?
The factor that determines the cost of online therapy, more than anything else, is how much of the therapist’s time and attention you receive through a given provider. Some services provide hour-long sessions that cost approximately $100 per session. Others allow you to communicate with your therapist only through text messaging and therefore may cost as little as $40 per week. That places the price range of online therapy at anywhere from $160 to $400 per month, subject to how many live therapy sessions you’d like each month and how many months in advance you are willing to pay for.
What are the Main Benefits of Online Counseling?
There are several reasons the top online therapy platforms have succeeded in attracting millions of users. Below are some of the more notable benefits reported by users and highlighted by the providers themselves.
The time spent commuting back and forth, on top of a session that typically lasts close to an hour, is a big time commitment for many people. Parents, as well those working full-time often find it difficult to consistently attend weekly sessions with a therapist. Online counseling sessions, however, do not require any time for commuting. In fact, sessions can take place during blocks of ‘downtime’ in the weekly schedules of even the busiest people. Since all one needs is a mobile device or computer with an Internet connection, the sessions can take place during a lunch break, while waiting in the car during a child’s soccer practice, or practically anytime during an available time slot that matches up with your therapist’s schedule.
In-person therapy sessions can cost anywhere from $75 to $300. This range reflects the location and level of education and experience of the therapist. Some online counseling services provide users with discounted introductory pricing, as well as discounts when committing to long-term subscriptions, starting with subscriptions as low as $40 per week. Some providers even work with major insurance companies, which further reduces your costs.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Engaging in online counseling provides users with a similar level of privacy and confidentiality than they would receive with an in-person therapist. Therapists on the platforms are bound by strict local and federal laws. The counseling sessions, as well as all communication with the online therapists, are protected by HIPAA. The chat sessions on the major therapist platforms, especially those listed above, are secured by encrypted connections. When signing up, users can use an alias and dummy e-mail account, adding an element of anonymity not available with in-person therapists.
Access to More Therapists
In some areas, the availability of local mental health professionals is extremely limited. Those that need therapists which specialize in treating specific conditions or using therapy modalities that they prefer have an even harder time finding help locally. With online counseling, location is less of a limiting factor. Therapists are able to work with clients that reside in any location in which they are licensed. Many therapists are licensed to work in multiple states, thereby dramatically increasing the number of potential clients they can help. This opens up a world of additional options to anyone living in smaller towns.
Many Options for Communication
Some people are able to communicate well verbally, face-to-face with their therapists, even when discussing the most sensitive of subjects. There are those, however, that have an easier time expressing themselves in writing or over the phone. This may be because it gives them more time to think through what they want to say or because it allows them to avoid having to process and express the physical mannerisms inherent in face-to-face communication. This is an area in which teletherapy really excels as text, phone, audio, and message boards are available with many online therapy providers.
Which Diagnoses Can be Treated Through Online Therapy?
These disorders usually have symptoms involving mood fluctuation, including periods of depression, mania, lack of sleep, risk-taking behaviors, and lack of impulse control.
Anxiety takes many forms but can involve specific fears, phobias, or worries, OCD, or generalized anxiety.
People who are diagnosed with personality disorders have long-term, fixed patterns of behavior that are extreme or rigid and inflexible. Narcissistic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and others are common diagnoses related to personality disorders.
Psychotic disorders are severe mental health conditions that are characterized by abnormal and odd thoughts and perceptions. Distorted reality is common for those in a psychotic state, often experiencing hallucinations and delusions. Schizophrenia, delusional disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and others are common diagnoses. Though not all providers have professionals on their platforms that are able to treat these types of disorders, some platforms, such as Talkspace and Amwell, do have online therapists with the necessary credentials and experience.
Trauma-related disorders present themselves when a person experiences an event that causes them to feel excessive fear, often involving fear that they will die as a result of the experience. These include chronic abuse, rape, incest, neglect, car accidents, medical traumas, and many others.
Substance abuse is an issue that has been prevalent for decades and continues to be a contemporary problem in our lives. Alcohol and drug dependence are medical conditions that have specific treatments that are effective in helping a patient reach sobriety. While therapy should be only one aspect of the treatment plan, it can be provided online with experienced counselors available on many of the leading platforms.
What Types of Therapy Are Available via Online Therapy?
These are some of the main theories that influence the therapy modalities commonly used in online therapy:
Psychodynamic Therapy (Psychoanalytic)
Patients gain insight into the unconscious ways they process things and how they affect current behaviors. Patients learn how their past may be behind their anxiety or depression, and work-out how to undo these patterns and develop healthier, more sustainable ones.
Derived from the early work of Pavlov, famous for his work with dogs, and Skinner who pioneered shaping behavior, therapists help patients overcome fears, phobias, or anxieties by desensitizing their worries. Through gradual exposure to stressful experiences and using coping skills, this approach shows a person can change their perceptions and behaviors in the process.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Patients are taught to recognize how their thoughts are contributing to their distress, and through cognitive and behavioral approaches, are challenged to apply coping skills in situations where they are exposed to stress.
Patients become able to notice their thoughts and how these thoughts affect their feelings and ultimately their behavior. Therapists will help their patients recognize that challenging their thoughts and using coping skills to tolerate them and change how they feel about whatever is causing them stress.
Patients work toward self-actualization involving helping them find meaning and make choices that are in their best self-interest in combination with support and consideration/respect for others to help them achieve their goals.
Integrative or Holistic Therapy
Therapists work with different approaches depending on patient need and their personal expertise and training.
What Are the Different Types of Online Therapy Providers?
Providers of online therapy can be classified by how they provide therapy. Most providers fall under one of two categories; those offering unlimited access to therapists and those that are purely session-based.
Providers offering unlimited access allow their users various forms of digital communication with their therapists. This may include phone, text, live chat, message boards, video messages, and audio messages. In addition, they may also offer live therapy sessions via video. Although the therapists might respond only a few hours, and sometimes a couple of days, after the messages have been sent, there is still an ongoing dialogue that allows clients to communicate exactly how they feel in real-time. The therapists then respond and provide support, often referencing previous live sessions or messages.
Those platforms that are more session-based typically do not offer additional ways to communicate with the therapists outside of the actual sessions which are typically conducted via video conferencing software. The sessions themselves can last 45 minutes to an hour, as compared with the 30-45 minute sessions that normally place through platforms offering unlimited access. However, the cost of a weekly session normally costs around $100, considerably more than the $50 to $65 charged by those offering unlimited access.
Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing an Online Therapy Service
One Therapist Does Not Represent the Entire Industry
When you sign up for online therapy, the platform will match with a therapist based on several parameters. This matching process is not always perfect. Sometimes, two people are simply incompatible for any of a number of reasons. Sometimes, they do get along, but the therapy does not appear to be working. When either of these scenarios happens, it’s important to remember that no one therapist represents the entirety of online therapy, and certainly of psychotherapy treatment as a whole.
People switch medical professionals all the time, and if you are unhappy with your therapist, you should do the same. Most online therapy platforms allow you to easily switch therapists at any time. If your frustration is as much with the platform itself as it is with your therapist, you can choose a different provider that will meet your needs.
Canceling is Easy
If you try out online therapy and come to the conclusion that it’s not for you, canceling your account is easy, and does not involve having an awkward conversation with your therapist the same way it would if you were seeing someone in-person. So, you should not worry about making the wrong decision, as it can be undone with minimal effort. However, keep in mind that receiving a refund for the unused time left in your package may prove to be a frustrating experience.
Decide Which Methods of Communication You Prefer
For some, the thought of texting with their therapist might seem a bit too informal. They prefer to have heavy, personal conversations with therapists they can see via video sessions. Others, however, really appreciate the ability to communicate with their online therapist the same way they communicate with nearly everyone else in their lives, via text messaging. There is certainly an age component that might impact which of these methods you prefer, but regardless, you should be prepared to decide which option you need before you sign up so that you choose the right provider and the right package for your needs.
Online Therapy Reviews Can Help You Decide
Therapy is not a quick-fix type of service. It typically involves a long-term process of gradually opening up to the therapist and working on oneself to confront emotions, change bad habits, and eventually overcome complicated challenges. Since the definition of success varies greatly when it comes to mental health treatments, our selection of the best online therapy providers was heavily impacted by both customer success stories and reviews by our editorial team. This information was collected based on online therapy reviews submitted on this website as well as others from around the web and our own hands-on testing of many platforms.
Online therapy provides a wealth of benefits, including convenience, privacy, and affordability, to name a few. It’s therefore no surprise to see millions of people transitioning from in-office to online sessions. If you’re looking to make the switch to online therapy from in-office appointments, make sure your needs are clearly defined so you can make the best possible decision for yourself.
Having a trusted relationship with a mental health professional gives you a place to vent and express your innermost thoughts and struggles. You could be struggling with mental health conditions, relationship problems, trauma, or a myriad of other challenges. A professional can help you arrive at the answers on how to cope with your life. It can be so hard to deal with the stress of life without support, and even when we do have the support of our loved ones, we can feel misunderstood and alone.
Online therapy has provided an easy and cost-effective way for people to give therapy a try and see if it works for them. However, regardless of whether it’s virtually or in-person, the important thing is that if you feel that you need help, you make it a priority to speak with a mental health professional.