Pros & Cons of Remote Therapy

Remote therapy (also known as online counseling, teletherapy, or e-therapy) refers to counseling and psychotherapeutic services that are held online. Unlike traditional therapy, online counseling is conducted with a licensed therapist or mental health professional using any device you can connect to the internet. 

While the coronavirus pandemic may have forced patients, new and seasoned alike, into an online session, virtual therapy practices still continue even as people begin to meet in person again. But is it the best choice? Let’s look at the pros and cons of remote therapy, and what makes remote therapy work – or not – for many patients and therapists.  

Pros of Remote Therapy

If you’re unsure you can fit in an hour (plus drive time, plus recharging post-session) for a therapy session into your tight schedule, an online  therapy platform might be the answer. Sessions are typically conducted through video platforms with secure connections. Here are some other benefits of to an online therapy service.

  • It works the same in many cases. According to recent research, accessing therapy online can be just as effective as in-person therapy for many mental health needs. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT was found as an effective treatment for depression remotely or in person. Another study found CBT was equally effective in treating social anxiety disorder and generalized anxiety disorder when done via online therapy. To learn more about CBT, or learn about the differences between CBT and psychodynamic therapy, our resource center can help you familiarize yourself with both to see what therapeutic approach may work best for you.

  • An online therapy session may be more approachable. Mental health is often stigmatized and difficult for people to talk about, especially those who need it the most. An online therapist Teletherapy can help patients overcome these stigmas, especially if they live in smaller cities or towns where talking to their general health care provider may know other people in their circle.  

  • Accessing therapy can be easier for those with disabilities. For those who have disabilities or physical limitations that keep them housebound or make travel much more difficult, remote therapy removes the issue of mobility. Instead, therapists can accommodate all kinds of clients, and help those who may not be able to easily drive or get to a therapist’s office.

  • It’s a great option for those who live in remote areas. Those living in major urban areas may find it relatively easy to get to an in-person therapy session. But for those in rural or remote areas, online therapy offers access to mental health treatments they might otherwise have to spend hours receiving. Reliable internet access makes therapy much easier rather than searching for clinics that offer mental health services at a significant distance.

  • It’s also a great option for those looking for convenience. Those with busy schedules and demanding jobs may not have the same amount of time to be able to leave for therapy appointments midday. Likewise, those undergoing major life changes, such as being a parent to a young child, may not have super flexible schedules. In general, remote therapy allows you to attend therapy in the comfort of your own home, which lets patients schedule therapy sessions at convenient times.

  • And insurance providers usually cover it. Many states and insurance providers cover remote therapy just like they would in-person sessions. Patients should always contact their insurance company to make sure, but typically teletherapy is covered under mental health policies. 

Cons and Disadvantages of Remote Therapy

Meanwhile, there are definitely some reasons not to take part in remote therapy. Consider these factors before opting in:

  • Confidentiality and privacy are harder to come by. Keeping personal information confidential is of the utmost importance in therapy. Patients must feel as if what they’re discussing every week is kept in a safe and secure environment, away from prying eyes and ears. You might find it much more difficult to safely attend a session in your home. 

  • Technology can go haywire. When you’re arriving at a session in-person, you’re simply sitting down across from your therapist – even if outside issues like construction or allergies arise, you probably don’t have your entire session shut down. However, if you’re online and either of your internet connections are shut off or unreliable, it can lead to some very frustrating attempts at having a proper session. A glitchy screen or bad audio connection can disrupt a perfectly good session!

  • Unwanted distractions can interrupt. It’s one thing to have a session in person where perhaps there is a loud noise coming from the outside. It’s a whole other to be interrupted by children, pets, delivery people, phone calls, loud neighbors, and more.

  • There isn’t the same access to crisis situations. Because remote therapy is, well, remote, it can make it difficult for therapists to respond quickly and effectively to a crisis. For example, if a client is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, therapists may not be able to provide direct assistance in the same way they can with in-person visits. It’s not the best for severe mental health illnesses. Remote therapy can really work for certain situations, such as a patient in need of CBT (as discussed earlier). But for patients with more serious mental health diagnoses, such as severe PTSD or bipolar disorder, it may not be nearly as effective. Folks who require direct treatment or the possibility of in-person intervention should look for alternatives to remote therapy.

  • It may not feel as comfortable. Sure, you may be physically comfortable in your home. Yet online sessions don’t account for the same level of reading body language, facial expressions, or vocal changes that therapists can detect during in-person sessions. These physical signals often help therapists get a better picture and offer better insight as to the mood, thoughts, and behaviors you might be experiencing. Many patients may find they get far more out of direct human contact than through video sessions.

  • Some insurance providers don’t cover it. Again, it depends on the provider, but insurance coverage for remote therapy is really state-dependent. Some providers don’t cover online therapy, and many states don’t allow out-of-state therapists to offer their services. Therapists have to be licensed for the state they’re in, so if you recently moved and want to keep your therapist from another state, you’re out of luck unless they’re also licensed to practice in your new neighborhood. 

Overall, remote therapy presents the opportunity for more flexibility, convenience, and approachability, particularly if a patient isn’t suffering from a severe mental health disorder. Depending on insurance providers, it may be the same cost or even less expensive than in-person therapy. And it makes therapy accessible for all, including those living in rural areas, those with challenging schedules, or those with disabilities.

On the other hand, remote therapy can lead to delays, malfunctions, and all other kinds of tech issues that can aggravate and ruin a session. Outside factors might distract patients, while some patients may not feel comfortable or safe going to a session in their home (and may have nowhere else to go). Some patients find remote therapy lacks a personal connection that they find visiting their therapist in person. And it may only offer limited insurance coverage or reimbursement. 

While remote therapy appears to be effective, there are still areas for development and discussion, like figuring out how to best integrate remote services with in-person ones, or whether remote therapy works just as well with children and teens. For now, it’ll be up to clients and patients alike to find what works best for them at specific times in their lives. No matter what, therapists and patients will work together to find session solutions that work so everyone can receive equitable, empathetic mental health care. If becoming a therapist, whether based in-person or online, sounds like the right career for you, contact us today to help yourself on the path to becoming a mental health professional.