Online Therapy: What You Need to Know

How Online Therapy Works

Technology has its miraculous conveniences. Not only is information only a keystroke away, but access to formal medical and mental healthcare is available at the click of the mouse or a finger on an app. Online therapy, a branch of telemedicine, allows an individual to meet with a therapist who may be miles away. 

 Online therapy is convenient and accessible, but it can also save on extra money needed for transport to a therapist and time off of work. Online therapy allows someone to obtain mental health care during their lunch hour or while their child is asleep, rather than spending the extra time and money for travel. As convenient as online therapy is, there are some things to be informed about before you commit to it.

Should You See an Online Therapist?

Before looking for an online therapist, it’s best to assess whether online therapy is right for you. There’s no barometer for when it’s time to see a therapist, but if your relationships are suffering, you feel stuck, or your work or school is being compromised because of your mental health, then it may be beneficial to see someone.

Of course, anyone who is in immediate crisis or feels that they are suicidal requires emergency care, and should call 911 or go directly to an emergency room. For others that are seeking a therapist, online therapy can be a viable option. Recent studies have shown that online treatment was as effective as face-to-face therapy. For individuals who have limited finances, time, want the convenience or an available therapist or do not have easy access to mental healthcare, online therapy can be a positive choice.

Confidentiality and Privacy

Because so much of online therapy is performed over the internet, you must find an online therapist who takes confidentiality and privacy very seriously. They must comply with federal laws (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA) and any state-level rules and regulations regarding health records and personal privacy. Ensure that the software being used by the therapist is HIPAA compliant.

How Do They Provide Their Services?

Unlike face-to-face sessions in an office, online therapy services provide a unique flexibility. The time and place of that your sessions take place is up to you. You can speak to a therapist while sitting in your car, while at your office, or from your living room couch. Some people will find that being in their own environment will make it easier for them to relax and confide in their therapist. The sessions happen live in real-time, and take place via video or voice. In many ways, these sessions are like scheduled face-to-face sessions, just with more privacy and more ability to fit therapy into your schedule. Where you conduct the session on your end is up to you, but a quiet and private area is best.

Length of Sessions for Online Therapy

Decide how many sessions you’re looking for and how long you would like the session to run. Your therapist will be able to help you evaluate what you need, and which type of therapy will be the most beneficial. Most therapy appointments run about 30 minutes to an hour. How frequently to meet with an online therapist depends on the issue you would like to address, as well as on the type of therapy you are receiving. Some individuals meet with their therapist more than once a week, and others who meet with them once a month. When you do meet with a therapist, you can create a schedule and establish a length and frequency of sessions. If you are unsure, having a brief fifteen or twenty minute conversation with a potential therapist may help to answer many of your questions and put you at ease.

Can You Afford Online Therapy?

If you have insurance, you may want to inquire about what your mental healthcare coverage is. Out-of-pocket costs for therapy can vary widely. Costs can also depend on how online therapist bills because the traditional “one-hour” sessions may not apply for their type of services. It’s best to ask detailed questions on what costs are and how billing occurs.

How Are They Licensed?

The letters after a therapist’s name can be quite intimidating and difficult to understand.

In short, an MD is a medical doctor who can prescribe medication (a psychiatrist) and an APRN-RX is an advanced practice nurse who can prescribe medication.

A Ph.D., Psy.D., and APRN can diagnose and treat mental illness but can not prescribe medication.

 A counselor or licensed social worker can perform psychotherapy.

In the end, the letters behind a therapist’s name matters less than whether or not you feel comfortable with them. Therapy outcomes are more positive when a therapist and patient can have a solid therapeutic relationship.

Your Personal Preferences for Online Therapy

There are also personal preferences that a person may have in regards to a therapist.Visiting a therapists website may help you get a feel for whether that particular therapist’s personality is a good match for yours. If cultural issues are part of a person’s mental health concerns, then finding a therapist that is culturally competent or familiar with the issues you are facing may make sense. Similarly, if you are a veteran or first responder, working with someone who has experience with the unique challenges you may be facing, can ensure that you get the most out of your sessions.

 Specialties are also important. Treatments like EMDR are something that requires special training, so if you are interested in receiving that sort of therapy, be sure to find a therapist who is knowledgeable about that treatment approach. People with a history of sexual trauma or violence may want to seek out someone who specializes in trauma or abuse. Some therapists may specialize in treating addictions, anxieties, or grief. Knowing what your needs are and finding a therapist who caters to your concerns can help to facilitate healing.

Online Therapy for the Future

What makes online therapy such a big draw for most people is the convenience of being able to access a therapist anywhere. In America, rural areas and even some urban areas lack access to adequate mental health care.  Online therapy can bring mental health services to people who would otherwise be left untreated.


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Jill Case

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