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Virtual Counseling - Does It Really Work?

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

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Many counseling offices were forced to turn away in-person visits during the pandemic lockdown, so many providers opted to provide care online instead. Though some offices are beginning to open their doors again, many patients have found the benefits offered by virtual counseling services outweigh those of traditional counseling.

Today, a number of patients have opted to remain online rather than return to office visits. But when it comes to virtual therapy vs. in-person therapy, does the online option really work?

Let’s take a closer look at some of the common myths surrounding the topic of virtual counseling so you can decide for yourself.

MYTH: It’s Difficult to Communicate Virtually

The number of people seeking therapy for the first time has increased exponentially for years, especially since the onset of the pandemic. Without access to in-person counseling during the Covid-19 lockdown, patients were forced to turn to telehealth services instead.

One major concern is whether or not communication is actually as effective on telehealth platforms. In-person cues like tone, facial expressions, and body language are important when it comes to making a genuine connection with a therapist.

FACT: Virtual Communication is Meaningful and Efficient

Whatever your preferred mode of communication, there is a virtual therapist with expert techniques waiting to form a meaningful connection with you on the other end.

A study conducted in 2013 by the University of Zurich concluded that 96% of patients felt that their interactions with their virtual counselor were “personal,” whereas only 91% of in-person patients rated their interactions as “personal” (Birgit, Horn, et al).

If connecting with a face is what you need to build a meaningful relationship with your counselor, you can schedule your sessions via webcam. Webcam sessions allow you to engage with your therapist face to face on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

This allows you to build a meaningful rapport just like you would if you went into an office for traditional counseling.

You also have the option to schedule teleconferences if you prefer to talk over the phone instead. Messaging platforms similar to texting or email exchanges are popular, especially with younger generations who find this type of interaction particularly familiar and meaningful.

Some patients find that they need to communicate with their counselor in the moment, and many apps offer the option to send messages marked as “urgent” so that your counselor knows your issue requires attention right away.

One of the benefits of virtual counseling is that the schedule and method of communication is totally in your control. This freedom makes staying consistent with your therapy sessions easier than traditional in-person appointments.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about awkwardly running into someone you know in the waiting room at the counselor’s office.

MYTH: Virtual Counselors Aren’t Licensed

Though the internet provides a number of benefits to society, one of the downsides is the opportunity for anonymity. Anyone can start a blog or post an article about an important topic without actually having any kind of expertise.

This can make it difficult to feel confident that your counselors are trustworthy and capable of providing high-quality treatment.

FACT: Reputable Telehealth Services Require a License to Practice

Although there are many unregulated online spaces where people can pose as so-called experts, telehealth counseling is not one of them. Reputable apps put all of their counselors through a rigorous vetting process which includes verifying credentials and licensure in the state where they practice therapy (American Psychological Association).

In addition, apps providing counseling services are HIPAA- compliant, meaning your information is strictly confidential. It’s important to choose a reputable service when selecting your app of choice for this reason.

Services like BetterHelp will provide you with everything you need to verify that you are being counseled by a professional. Your telehealth service will provide you with access to details like your therapist’s name and licensure credentials so that you can feel confident that you’re in the right hands.

You’ll receive the same quality of expertise in an online counseling session as you would if you went to the session in person, and it’s more convenient than driving to an office every week.

MYTH: It’s Not As Effective

Counseling requires a great deal of effort on behalf of the patient seeking support. Many people want to be sure that the time and money they invest in therapy is actually worth it.

One common fear is that virtual counseling just isn’t as effective as traditional therapy. Another fear is that non-traditional counseling just hasn’t been around for long enough to know if it’s effective.

FACT: Virtual Counseling is Just as Effective as In-Person

Virtual counseling isn’t actually that new; in fact, it’s been around in some capacity for over twenty years. Online therapy originated as a way to treat members of the military and has evolved over time to include the general public, allowing for a number of peer-reviewed studies to take place.

In a study on the efficacy of telehealth therapy in treating posttraumatic stress disorder, researchers found that virtual treatment delivered to patients in familiar settings like their homes not only increased the accessibility of therapy, but did so without negative impacts on the effectiveness of treatment (Acierno, Knapp, et al)

In other words, more patients benefited from virtual counseling and their treatment was just as effective as if they traveled to a therapist’s office. This makes sense - undergoing therapy sessions in the comfort of your home can offer a chance for vulnerability and honesty that might prove more difficult in an unfamiliar setting.

Even when it comes to text exchanges between counselors and patients there is ample research to support efficacy in treatment.

A study conducted by Reynolds, Stiles, et al on the impact of online-text counseling concluded that participants rated their text exchanges more positively than they rated their in-person exchanges.

More extreme cases of mental health may require additional in-person therapy in order to provide the highest quality care. Some studies suggest that simply engaging in the act of online counseling can motivate patients to seek out in-person therapy to treat severe cases, such as eating disorders.

MYTH: It’s Not Affordable

One major obstacle preventing people from seeking mental health support is the cost associated with care. Finding affordable counseling services can seem daunting.

Patients must navigate whether to use insurance care networks or seek care outside of networks. Some patients don’t have insurance at all.

Going to an office for traditional counseling is often very expensive and inconvenient, leading to inconsistency in session attendance and ultimately sabotaging the plan of care.

Non-traditional services are often not covered by insurance, which sounds scary to patients enrolling in a telehealth program.

FACT: There are many ways to afford virtual counseling

What many people don’t understand about non-traditional counseling services is that although they are often out of network, they can actually be more affordable than traditional in-person counseling.

Services like Better Help offer income-driven pricing, meaning that patients with lower incomes can receive discounted monthly rates in exchange for unlimited messaging and sessions with their mental health care provider.

More independently owned practices are offering virtual counseling and providing payment plan options for patients. These options make seeking convenient, high-quality mental health care affordable for everyone.

While there is always the risk of experiencing technical glitches with your internet or devices during a session, don’t let that possibility prevent you from giving virtual counseling a try.

Your counselor will always reach back out and help you work through any technical issues you experience during a session. Where there’s a will to improve mental health, there’s a way.

Call 833-934-3573 for your free, no-obligation consultation or Book an Appointment.

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