In this post, I will briefly explain what online therapy is. I will give you some pointers as to what to look for. I will also set out some of the benefits and challenges of online therapy. This will help you make an informed choice as to whether face to face therapy or online therapy is better for you.
What is online therapy?
Online counselling or therapy means that you do not physically meet your therapist face to face for sessions, but instead use some form of electronic communication.
‘Electronic communication’ could be video or audio conferencing, mobile telephone or landline. It can also refer to other means of communication, such as email, text, or internet relay chat. Personally, I prefer to work in ‘real time’ with video communication or at least audio communication. So I use only these other means only in extremely limited circumstances.
Here are some things to think about when deciding whether to opt for face to face or online therapy.
Is online counselling effective?
Research has shown that online therapy is roughly as effective as face to face therapy. It has also shown that it is possible to develop a strong therapeutic relationship online. This is my own experience too. Online counselling is approved by my own professional membership body, the BACP.
Is your therapist trained in online counselling?
Online therapy is different in many ways from face to face counselling. Your therapist should be aware of the benefits, risks and challenges. This should become clearer when you talk to them about it.
There are different opinions as to what training therapist should have undertaken, but they should have undertaken at least some credible training. For example, I have undertaken 80 hours’ training aligned with the competences of my professional membership body, the BACP.
Most online communications leave a ‘data footprint’. For example, most emails are not encrypted and emails remain on the provider’s servers. So emails are not suitable for conveying sensitive or personal material of the sort needed in therapy. (However I can show you how to access free, easy to set up, encrypted email if you feel you need it.) Video calls may be encrypted but not always ‘end-to-end’. Data security can never be absolutely safe.
Your therapist should be making you aware that data security is never perfect, rather than simply reassuring you that it is fine and telling you not to worry about it. However, we should not be so concerned about an intrusion on our personal data that we avoid online therapy. Your therapist should be able to tell you what measures they take to minimise the risks.
The benefits of online therapy
Here are some of the things you may find helpful in choosing online therapy.
- If you can create a comfortable and private space in your own home from which to attend therapy, you may find it easy to talk, focus and express yourself there.
- Your commitment of time and energy is reduced, as you do not need to travel to and from a counselling venue for your therapy sessions.
- Online counselling is suitable when you find it difficult to leave the house or travel to a counselling venue, maybe for reasons connected to your mental health, physical health or a disability.
- We can meet for therapy sessions even during public health restrictions, such as the corona virus ‘lock-down’. (We can continue to meet online after the restrictions end as I have the appropriate training to do so. Not all therapists will be able to do this.)
- Research shows that online therapy is as effective as face to face therapy. It is largely a personal choice as to whether you prefer face to face or online counselling.
The challenges of online therapy
There are also some challenges of working online. Here are five things to consider if you are thinking of choosing online therapy instead of face to face therapy.
- Online counselling may not work so well for you if you cannot find a comfortable and private space from which to attend therapy. Face to face counselling ensures a safe, private environment.
- You will need a reasonably good internet or phone connection for online sessions. If the internet connection is poor, sessions may become disjointed and less effective.
- With video counselling, we do not see the whole of each other. With audio-only counselling, we do not have a picture at all. This means that some visual clues that are available in face to face counselling are lost. We will need to use more verbal explanations to overcome this. This is very doable. It is just a different way of communicating.
- Online counselling adds to the time you are using a screen (computer, phone, television, etc.) You may need to think about how extra screen time fits into your need to take care of yourself.
- Even with encrypted technology, most online sessions will leave an additional ‘data footprint’ that face to face sessions do not. There is minimal risk of intrusion. These risks can be minimised but not eliminated completely.
What should I do?
In the end, the choice of how you do therapy is yours. A good therapist will want to ensure you make the choice for yourself. And that your choice is fully informed.
A therapist should be able to give you information to help you decide what sort of therapy to try. This means answering your questions about online therapy – and other sorts of therapy too. They should also be able to give you clear information on how they work themselves. Having this conversation up front should give you some insight into a therapist’s own experience, competence and confidence using such technology.
So, yes, do take advice from others. But in the end, you know yourself best. Let your instinct guide you as to what will suit you best.
Please give me a call on 07963 740048 if you have any questions about online therapy or therapy in general. More information can be found on the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) website at https://www.bacp.co.uk/
- For more information about the therapy I offer, go to the Your Questions page.
- For more about my training and experience, see About Juline
- To book an initial consultation or make an enquiry, please go to my Contact Page.
Photo by https://unsplash.com/@pperkins (cropped).