Therapy has traditionally taken place in an office, face-to-face with a therapist. However, many therapists now also offer online therapy. Online therapy increases choice and flexibility by allowing access to therapy from home, work, or wherever is most suitable for the client.
Online therapy often involves talking with a therapist using video-conference software, such as Skype (https://www.skype.com/en/). Online video-conference calls can be made using a PC, laptop, tablet or mobile phone.
Although many different types of therapy can be delivered using video-conference software, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is delivered most frequently. CBT is a talking therapy that helps individuals to manage a range of problems, such as depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16199119), by changing the way that they think and behave.
Is online therapy as helpful as face-to-face therapy?
As online therapy has not been around for as long as face-to-face therapy, there is less evidence available to assess how effective it is. However, research that is available suggests that online therapy may be as effective as face-to-face therapy (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25273302) and is particularly helpful for anxiety and depression (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0026877/)
For example, one recent study involved researchers administering CBT to individuals with depression; either face-to-face or via webcam. They found that depressive symptoms improved in 60% of participants, and there were no differences in improvement between the face-to-face group and the webcam group (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019624/)
There is also some evidence to suggest that online therapy may be helpful for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), PTSD, social anxiety and eating disorders (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03069880902957007#.V5YYtKJCgsA)
Not only does online therapy appear to be as effective as face-to-face therapy, clients also report similar levels of satisfaction (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03069880902957007).
Who is online therapy suited to?
Online therapy is well suited to individuals who:
- May struggle to commute for face-to-face therapy, perhaps because of physical health issues, lack of transport or social anxiety.
- Feel more comfortable at home than in a therapist’s office.
- Are on a budget, as online therapy is often cheaper than face-to-face therapy.
- Have busy lives, as appointments can often be booked at shorter notice and can take place almost anywhere.
Who is online therapy not suited to?
Online therapy is not for everyone and may not be suited to individuals who:
- Are in an immediate crisis situation, such as if they are considering harming themselves.
- Are experiencing more serious or complex mental health issues, such as psychosis.
- Do not feel confident using computers or video-conferencing software and for who conducting online therapy may make them feel more anxious.
Are there any disadvantages of online therapy?
Although there are many positive aspects to online therapy, there are also some things that can make it more challenging than face-to-face therapy.
Therapists may find it more difficult to read body language and voice cues than in face-to-face therapy. However, accredited therapists are usually well-trained to spot these signs, even via webcam.
Although some people feel more comfortable speaking to their therapist from their own home, others may prefer to be in the presence of a therapist and may find that it is easier to build rapport this way.
Diagrams and charts may also be more difficult to see in online therapy, particularly if the webcam or mobile phone camera is of poor quality.
Many individuals find that having both face-to-face and webcam sessions can help overcome some of these issues.
Is online therapy safe?
Video-conference software, such as Skype, uses Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which means that it is very difficult for somebody to intercept the call.
Of course, the same levels of confidentiality are maintained by your therapist in online therapy as in face-to-face therapy.
Where can I find out more information?
If you’re interested in finding out more about online therapy then please get in touch by clicking here.
Writer for Cognitive Practice