The Pros and Cons of Online Therapy  

Rohan Mathew

Updated on:

The Pros and Cons of Online Therapy  

Online therapy in New York and other states is booming. We can give most of the credit to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has kept millions of us at home and has led to an estimated three-fold increase in depression.

In tandem with telehealth’s growing popularity, we have a growing list of research studies suggesting that online therapy services work at least as well as in-person therapy. But is it right for you?

To help you make the right decision, check out the following pros and cons of working with a therapist via phone, video conference, or messaging app.

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Online Therapy: Exploring the Pros and Cons

How does online therapy stack up against traditional in-person therapy? Let’s take a look at remote counseling’s claims to fame:

Fewer Barriers to Access

A number of things can make it difficult for someone to visit a therapist’s office in-person. To name just a few:

  • Lack of safe, reliable, and/or affordable transportation
  • Lack of reliable and/or affordable childcare
  • Inclement weather
  • Inability to take time off work
  • Busy schedule
  • Physical and/or mental health conditions that make community mobility challenging
  • The need to socially distance or quarantine because of COVID-19

Virtually all of these barriers are eliminated thanks to online therapy, which allows you to connect with a licensed therapist without ever leaving your home or office.

Affordable and Competitive Rates

Companies like PlushCare offer competitive online therapy rates that are comparable to in-person therapy rates. In many cases—and especially if you sign up for deals like discounted monthly subscriptions—online therapy ends up less expensive. Plus, it saves you even more by minimizing all those little things that really add up, including gas mileage, parking fees, wear and tear on your car, lost wages, and childcare costs.

Just note: most insurance companies don’t reimburse for online therapy, so check with your provider and get clear on costs upfront.

Offers Confidentiality and Comfort

Try as we might, there’s still a stigma surrounding mental illness. And it turns out stigma is a pretty powerful force that can stop people from seeking treatment.

With online therapy, you don’t have to run the risk of running into people you know at a therapist’s office, nor feel forced to explain to your boss why you need to leave the office for an appointment. And since many of us are already used to texting and chatting on the phone, these modes of communication may feel less intimidating while discussing sensitive and heavy topics.

Requires Some Extra Homework on Your End

One check in the cons column is that it’s not always easy to tell whether the online therapist you’re considering is credible. Since “therapist” isn’t a legally protected word, just about anyone can slap it onto their online profile and market their services as such. Plus, not every website or app out there uses secure, HIPAA-compliant technology. This means you run the risk of having your sensitive information breached—at least if you don’t select a reputable platform.

To mitigate these potential downfalls, do some research and ask questions as you shop around. Some helpful ones to get you started:

  • Are you licensed? (Bonus: most states offer online directories where you can verify a therapist’s license using their name and profession)
  • How many years have you been practicing?
  • What are you doing to ensure my private information is safe and secure?
  • Is this program/service HIPAA-compliant?

Another thing to remember:

Depending on where you live, you might only be able to work with a therapist who is licensed to practice in your state. That said: thanks to the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT), launched in 2020 by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Licensing Boards, licensed mental health providers from 14 states are permitted to practice remotely across state lines, including Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

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Tech Glitches Are Always Possible

When you depend on online therapy, you depend on a good internet connection, no dropped calls, easy-to-use apps, and high quality audiovisual feedback. But as anyone who has used a phone or computer would know, that’s not always a guarantee.

These occasional glitches can be super disruptive to your healing experience, especially if they happen regularly. Plus, not everyone is super tech-savvy, nor has easy access to the internet or smartphone technology.

The Bottom Line

Testing out online therapy is low-risk to you, provided you use trustworthy companies. Plus, the potential benefits of online therapy easily outweigh any potential downsides for most people who try it.

That said, you get to decide which model is best for you. And if you’re concerned about technology snafus getting in the way, or simply prefer face-to-face interactions, in-person visits might be more up your alley.