Is Online Therapy For Me?
The popularity of online therapy boomed during lockdown. Although some therapists were already delivering online therapy before Covid-19, lockdown forced therapists and clients (many of whom had never before had to deliver or receive therapy through a computer screen) to rapidly adapt. As therapy rooms across the country re-open and the option for face to face therapy resumes, many people are feeling a bit confused about which option to go for. This blog will explore the pros and cons, as well as some tips around what to look for in a therapist if you decide to try online therapy and how to make the most of it.
For the sake of transparency, I'm now a big fan of online therapy, and although I do plan to return to the consulting room at some point in the future in order to offer clients a choice of online or face to face, I currently exclusively offer online therapy and will continue to offer it as an option for the rest of my career.
Is Online Therapy Effective?
The short answer is 'yes.' Research, and the personal experience of thousands of clients, has shown that personal therapy can be just as transformative and life-changing as face to face therapy.
It's not the best type of therapy for everyone, but then again, no type of therapy or modality is. Just as some clients will prefer face to face therapy, some prefer online therapy for a multitude of reasons and some (like me) don't have a preference but do prioritise finding the right therapist for them.
Increased choice of therapist
One of the things that I personally love about online therapy is that it opens clients up to a much wider pool of potential therapists. Its been proven that the most important indicator of whether therapy will be a positive and transformative experience is the therapist - client relationship, not the type of therapy itself. Finding a therapist that you feel that you might 'gel' with becomes much easier when you aren't bound by geography.
Sadly, a lot of the therapist directories don't quite seem to have caught up with this idea and still bind clients to searching geographically for a therapist, even if they're seeking online therapy. Psychology Today's directory is the best that I've found so far for this, with the ability to seek an online therapist by country (e.g. England), rather than by county or city. You can also search 'online' in the search bar to bring up results for online therapists. This then allows you to filter your search using other criteria such as (but not limited to) gender of therapist, specialism or approach.
Convenience and cost
We all live busy lives so its sometimes difficult to find the time to commute to therapy, particularly for those who rely on public transport. Many people don't like seeing a counsellor or therapist who lives too close to them, which means that extra time has to be allotted and added onto the length of the session in order to access weekly counselling or therapy. At a time of soaring fuel prices, the cost of this commute can also add up.
With online therapy, there's no commute and no extra commuting costs. If a session has been particularly emotionally charged, there's no need to have to drive back or get on public transport whilst feeling fragile. Instead, you can timetable in decompression and self-care time immediately after a session - you might choose to have a warm, comforting drink, listen to music or take the time to journal afterwards.
Online therapy has opened up opportunities for many people who previously struggled to access therapy. Therapy rooms are often tricky to find and rent out - with many counsellors and therapists working from spare rooms at home or from rooms in buildings that simply aren't very accessible to clients with mobility challenges.
In addition to this, some people seeking counselling and therapy understandably find the idea of leaving their house, commuting to a therapist's office and sitting in the waiting room (if there is one) incredibly anxiety provoking and overwhelming. Online therapy can be a really good, and often preferable, accessible option. Online therapy allows the therapist to meet you in the comfort of your own home, which can be really convenient and reassuring.
Some points to consider
Although I'm an advocate for online therapy, there's definitely some points to consider before deciding if it's right for you. You'll need a secure internet connection and a private space to speak to your therapist from. These are non-negotiables for it to be able to work. Technical issues do sometimes happen and your therapist should make a plan with you around this whilst contracting (eg arranging to telephone you if the internet connection cuts out) but if this happens every week then face to face or telephone therapy is a better idea. It can also feel very awkward discussing problems with your family or partner if you're worried that they can hear you - only you know the dynamic in your home and whether this will work for you.
The convenience and lack of commute can be a real positive for some people but its always worth considering how you will transition away from your therapy sessions once they end. Discussing difficult life events and emotions in a therapist's office, and then leaving the room, has the psychological effect of 'closing the door' on the session and giving yourself a bit of mental distance from it. This obviously isn't the case if you're having online therapy from your office or spare room.
I always recommend that clients get creative with simple rituals to signify that the 'therapy space' has ended and they're back in their 'home space' - this might be something small like lighting a candle at the end of your session, getting up and walking around the house, using something scented like incense as a sensory way to transition or doing a quick grounding exercise/meditation. EFT tapping can also be a really useful tool for this or even just telling yourself, 'therapy is over, I'm at home now.'
I also always advise clients to timetable a 10 - 30 minute break away from their normal home routine after their online session - just because you can get straight back into your daily responsibilities doesn't mean that you should. Give yourself a little time to process. If you feel like you're finding it difficult to transition from a room in your home being your 'therapy space' into it being home again, speak to your therapist about this. They might be able to help you with some grounding techniques at the end of each session.
When lockdown hit, I personally decided to take an ACTO approved, 80 hour course to ensure that I felt confident as an online therapist. Your therapist doesn't necessarily have to have taken a course like this but it might be a good idea to ask how they plan to keep your data secure, what their plan is if the technology fails and which video provider they use/why they have chosen it.
Online therapy is generally very similar to face to face therapy, but there are differences (one being something called the 'disinhibition effect' where clients can sometimes open up more quickly than in face to face sessions and occasionally end up feeling overwhelmed during or after sessions. A good online therapist will understand this and be able to help clients ground and centre themselves and work at a pace that is safe for them).
At the end of the day, everyone is an individual with individual needs. Some people find online therapy and counselling wonderfully effective and prefer it whereas other people prefer face to face therapy.
There's no 'right' or 'wrong' but I personally love the freedom that it has brought to the profession - for therapists to work with a wider range of clients and for clients to have a much wider range of potential therapists.
If you're looking for an online therapist and you're interested in working together, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll get back to you within 48 hours for a free, no obligation Zoom consultation.