Online counseling, also known as telehealth, makes it easier than ever before to reach out and get the psychological help you need. Still, you might have several questions, many of which boil down to one: What are the pros and cons of online counseling?
We’re very excited to offer online counseling to our patients, which is why we’ve put together this post to walk you through the pros and cons. Overall, online counseling can be well worth it, especially if it eliminates any fears you have about reaching out to a therapist.
What you’ll love about online counseling
Online counseling has been proven to be just as effective as traditional therapy in treating many disorders, from anxiety and depression to OCD. There are many other benefits as well.
For instance, if you have problems traveling, then online counseling can be a great option when you need to talk to a therapist. If you suffer from an anxiety disorder such as agoraphobia or social anxiety, you might choose online counseling as a way to get initial help, without having to physically leave your comfort zone. As your condition improves, you may later wish to transition to in-person therapy.
Online counseling can also help maintain your privacy if you’re worried about someone you know “finding out” that you’re in therapy. You won’t have to travel to a therapist’s office (meaning, no unexpected run-ins with people you might know) and you’ll also have access to therapists outside your immediate area.
Another benefit of online counseling is that you could potentially include a family member or partner in the therapy session, even if that person lives far away from you. You may want to do this to help your therapist better understand your dynamic; or, you might want to use the therapy framework to have a difficult discussion with him or her. Regardless of the situation, online counseling makes it possible for you both to attend therapy together.
During online counseling sessions, you may feel more comfortable sharing personal information than you would in person. Speaking over the phone or video chat often has a calming effect — both because you’re in your own environment and because the “barrier” of technology can make the conversation feel less intimidating than it might feel in person.
Finally, online counseling can simply be more convenient. Your therapist may be open to having sessions outside of business hours, making it work better with your schedule. You won’t have to worry about the time it takes to travel to the therapist’s office, and you’ll probably have fewer missed appointments due to things like traffic, illness, or childcare issues.
The challenges of online counseling
Of course, nothing is black and white, so like anything else, some have raised questions about online counseling. For example, having a private discussion with a therapist might feel risky over a platform like FaceTime or Skype, leading some to wonder whether their therapeutic records or conversations could be compromised.
That’s certainly a valid question, and protecting your information is our highest priority, too. That’s why at Orange County Health Psychologists, we only use HIPAA-approved software (Doxy.me and Zoom) for our online counseling sessions. (HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a federal law that was enacted to make sure patients’ health care data remains secure.)
That being said, the technology used for online counseling might take a little getting used to. We find both of our platforms to be very user-friendly, but we’re definitely here to help if you have any questions getting set up. Also, as is usually the case with technology, there can be glitches and mishaps from time to time. So to avoid interruptions during your session, be sure you’re on a high-speed internet connection and that your device is sufficiently charged.
One important note: In-person therapy is usually necessary for severe psychiatric illnesses where you are a danger to yourself or others. In these cases, online counseling is best used as a supplemental resource, only. Your therapist can help determine whether you need in-person treatment.
Likewise, online counseling can be limited in crisis situations. If you are feeling suicidal, please first call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Still unsure? Don’t let that stop you from getting help
Even if you still have questions or concerns about therapy, don’t let that stop you from exploring ways to get help. We’re more than happy to answer your questions about traditional or online counseling so that you feel more comfortable starting the process. Taking the first step toward healing is always the hardest, so treat yourself with compassion and reach out to us at 949.528.6300 or via email at info@OCHealthPsych.com.
—Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists