COVID-19 is causing additional stress and also forcing many people to stay in their homes. Given these circumstances, online therapy is becoming more popular. If you’re considering virtual therapy sessions, you may have questions about how they’re different from traditional in-person sessions. Here are some things to consider.
Methods of Communication
The method of communication is the main difference between online therapy and in-person therapy. In-person sessions take place in a therapist’s office where you and the therapist can see each other face-to-face. This is helpful for picking up on body language and other nonverbal cues.
Teletherapy can be conducted over phone call, text, or video chat, depending on the client’s preference and the therapist’s technological capabilities. This makes it harder for the therapist to interpret nonverbal cues, especially if the communication is only taking place through texting or phone call. Video chat provides the closest feeling to actually being in the therapist’s office.
Online therapy is more convenient than traditional therapy. Instead of driving to a therapist’s office for every session, you can simply log on to a website or app from the comfort of home. Many online therapists have flexible scheduling, making it easier for you to fit a session into your day.
Teletherapy is also helpful for people who struggle to access in-person treatment for one reason or another. They may have a disability, lack transportation, live too far away from a treatment location, or be unable to leave their house. Online sessions make it possible for these people to receive the mental health treatment they need.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) extends to online counseling. That means your health information and whatever you discuss in therapy is protected by law. However, be careful when choosing a provider. Some platforms or websites lack privacy safeguards.
Find out if the company uses encryption to protect their clients’ data. If you’re using video conferencing, make sure the platform is HIPAA-compliant. Be careful of apps like Skype or FaceTime that might not adequately protect your information. Instead, choose a HIPAA-compliant app like Zoom or BlueJeans.
If you decide to try text or phone therapy, keep in mind that not all phone service providers use encryption, which could put your information at risk. It’s generally better to conduct sessions using a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform. However, texts and calls can be helpful for checking in between sessions or reaching out in a crisis situation.
Some online counseling websites use affordability as a promotional tactic, but be sure to carefully evaluate that claim. Pricing models vary and may not be covered by insurance.
Some providers charge a monthly or weekly subscription fee that gives you access to a certain number of sessions. You may be able to save money on these fees if you sign up for a longer subscription period. Other providers charge by the session, much like an in-person therapist.
Generally, therapists will charge the same for online sessions and in-person sessions. If you have insurance, check to see if your provider will cover teletherapy. While a monthly subscription service may seem like a good value, your co-pay could be cheaper if you go with a provider that accepts insurance.
Most states have different licensing requirements for therapists. Generally, a therapist will not be able to practice in a state they are not licensed in, so you need to make sure that you choose a therapist in your state.
Also be aware that some online therapists might not actually be licensed. The terms “therapist” and “psychotherapist” are not legally protected, which means anyone can use them, regardless of their qualifications. Always verify that you are working with a licensed professional.
In many cases, online therapy provides the same quality of care. Several studies have found that teletherapy is just as effective as in-person sessions for treating a range of mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression.
You may find that virtual therapy is not right for you based on your individual circumstances. Whether you have a severe mental health disorder that requires more intensive care, or you simply prefer to communicate in-person, online therapy is not always the best option. Still, teletherapy offers a lot of benefits. Most importantly, it helps decrease stigma. Attending therapy from the comfort of home makes it easier for people to reach out.
Ready to Try Online Therapy?
If you’ve decided to try online therapy, The Light Program offers telemental health services through BlueJeans, a HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platform. Our therapists are licensed in Pennsylvania and treat both adults and adolescents. No matter where you live in the state, you can access the programming offered at any of our locations. Reach out to our admissions team to set up a teletherapy session for yourself or a loved one.