With the rise of online therapy, finding a counselor who can accommodate your schedule and lifestyle has never been easier — just as long as the virtual option of your choice is legitimate and right for your needs.
Ensure your time is valued and well-being is protected with the help of our therapist-backed guide to online therapy.
What Is Online Therapy?
Online therapy is "basically therapy through a screen," Jessica Baum, LMHC, the founder of Relationship Institute of Palm Beach and creator of the Self-Full method, said. "This can be a computer screen or phone, as long as the platform that is being used protects the client's privacy."
She even noted that online therapy includes voice recording and texting.
"It's really a supply and demand thing," Dr. Stacy Cohen, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of The Moment, added. Online therapy allows everyone to save time. Specific specialists can be linked to patients without worry of accessibility (especially during non-work hours) and geographical constraints.
What Makes Online Therapy Different Than Traditional Therapy?
Obviously, online therapy can be done anywhere, so it eliminates transportation time and physical barriers that oftentimes make therapy inaccessible or inconvenient, Dr. Cohen explained.
In Baum's experience, she's found that online therapy can make clients feel less vulnerable, which is helpful for anyone who may not take the initiative to attend therapy in person.
On the other hand, Baum admitted that online therapy can lack intimacy and make it harder for a therapist to get the full picture and pick up on shifts in a client's emotions and energy — but, she does believe the right client-therapist relationship can connect through a screen.
What Should You Look For in an Online Therapist?
Both Baum and Dr. Cohen agreed one should never sacrifice quality for convenience — sometimes, what appears to be a cheaper session could cost you more in terms of money, pain, and time in the long run.
Dr. Cohen insisted that doing research and making sure a therapist is HIPAA and HITECH compliant and using a secure platform is crucial. "Don't be afraid to ask how they are keeping your session confidential," she stressed.
Check out the therapist's background to see what they are passionate about treating and what they highlight the most about themself, Baum continued. "Chances are, that's where they have done their additional training."
Getting a feel of the therapist based on their photograph is valid, too, Baum added. Make sure the person seems like someone you would feel comfortable talking to about your life.
Are There Different Types of Online Therapy?
There are multiple different types of HIPPA-compliant platforms one can use — video therapy being the most common, Baum said. She uses Theranest, which handles all charges and billing through its secure telehealth platform. "Think of it as therapy through FaceTime; however, FaceTime is not a secure platform," she elaborated.
As for texting, Baum has mixed feelings: "It's not really therapy in my eyes; it's more like support." Baum said unlimited texting could build a client's dependency in a negative way, rather than providing a long-term, self-sufficient solution.
In her opinion, text therapy has the most therapeutic value for regular therapists who see clients in person and exchange texts in a supportive way between sessions.
Voice therapy, which is just voice recording, can be another resource for clients, Baum said — but, she said she doesn't view this as a very effective means of therapy.
Are There Any Cons to Online Therapy?
Some forms of therapy — like EMDR, somatic work, or hypnosis, for example — are most effective in person, Dr. Cohen said. "Some of the sensations won't translate properly over video."
With online therapy, both the patient and practitioner see only a limited view of each other and each other's space, which could alter their perception of one another, Dr. Cohen continued.
In addition, Dr. Cohen said she finds that people are more distracted in an online setting: "If there's a way to turn off [phone] pop-ups, that should absolutely be done."
Baum also pointed out that she doesn't take on online clients that are at high risk for addiction or suicidal thoughts — extreme cases are often too sensitive and should be handled in a room.
Do Online Therapists Have the Same Credentials as Regular Therapists?
Yes, both therapists or psychotherapists must be licensed in the state they are practicing, Dr. Cohen confirmed — online therapists included.